EAST WENATCHEE — Joseph Hunter knows first-hand the benefit a support network can have on someone with a drug addiction.
"I am a person in long-term recovery," Hunter said. "I just didn't realize the power opiates had on somebody like me and it quickly took complete control of my life."
Hunter, a recovery coach network manager at the North Central Accountable Community of Health, shared his story of grappling with drug addiction during Feb. 27's monthly Chelan-Douglas Health District board meeting.
Hunter was appointed to the board last year after the state passed new requirements for boards of health to include a more diverse group of people.
One major concern for Hunter in tackling the opioid crisis is the lack of a local opioid detox site.
"How can you expect somebody to step into treatment when they can't even detox off the drugs they're using," Hunter said. "And so without fixing that gap in our community, no matter how much other things we do, it's like we're building the cart before having the horses you know. We really need to start with those big gaps."
Many board members expressed their appreciation in Hunter sharing his recovery story with the board. A couple members of the public also shared stories on how their friends or families had been impacted by drug abuse.
The Center for Alcohol & Drug Treatment, a Wenatchee nonprofit, recently asked for $20 million for a new facility, in part, to address this current need.
Dr. James Wallace, Chelan-Douglas Health District health officer, also spoke on the growing number of overdose deaths in North Central Washington as part of his monthly health officer update.
Wallace said the state has seen a 66% in opioid related deaths from 2019 to 2022. Earlier this year, Chelan County coroner Wayne Harris reported 19 fentanyl deaths in 2022. Douglas County Coroner Tanner Bateman reported three fentanyl deaths that same year.
Hunter said he that the opioid crisis in North Central Washington has been exacerbated due to the COVID-19 pandemic forcing people to isolate and closing down many useful resources.
Hunter said he was over-prescribed pain medications around 2010 after an ankle surgery.
"It took complete control of my life," he said. Hunter noted he spent time in the Grant County Jail and was homeless at times in Moses Lake.
Hunter moved to Wenatchee in 2016 where a family member connected him with a local narcotics anonymous group that gave him a safe place to share his experiences and helped him begin a process of recovery.
"I fell in love with the people, the camaraderie, being able to have a safe place to share my life experiences," Hunter said.
A version of this story previously appeared in The Wenatchee World.
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