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Opioid epidemic has a new rival in Walla Walla

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Nadean Pulfer with patient

Blue Mountain Heart To Heart Physician Assistant Nadean Pulfer talks with one of her opiate addiction “success stories” recently.

Those addicted to opioids have a new option for treatment with the Opioid Resource Network.

Everett Maroon, executive director of Blue Mountain Heart to Heart — often shortened to BMH2H, said the local program had a soft opening several weeks ago. Several organizations are pitching in to help provide this resource that allows anyone to get medication-assisted treatment — just by dialing a number.

Everett Maroon

Everett Maroon

Staff at BMH2H have been working out the new program’s kinks, Maroon said, and organizations in other counties will provide services, but he couldn’t speak to their readiness. So far, he said, 30 people had knocked on their doors for an appointment at the Kelly Place office, and 13 of those were taking medication to help them get off opioids.

Providing help is familiar for Maroon.

“It’s us doing what we always do at Heart to Heart for HIV and AIDS patients,” Maroon said. “But now we’re doing it for all looking for help.”

He and Becky Grohs, chief operating officer of Consistent Care, wrote a grant proposal to the Greater Columbia Accountable Community of Health and won $150,000 to manage treatment within Benton, Franklin and Walla Walla counties for one year.

The Greater Columbia Accountable Community of Health is one of nine ACHs in the state that align with Washington’s Medicaid regional service areas. It’s also the largest, covering Yakima, Kittitas, Benton, Franklin, Walla Walla, Columbia, Whitman, Garfield, and Asotin counties.

“Basically, we wrote an approach to manage opioid treatment,” Maroon said.

But, it’s more than that — it’s treatment and wraparound services with entities joining forces and providing money, he said.

The beginning

The Opioid Resource Network project started June 28 with the $150,000 grant money and other funding, including about $420,000 from the Allen Foundation and the Health Care Authority’s Division of Behavioral Health and Recovery combined, for a University of Washington’s study through mid-2021. Another $80,000 came from Premera, which will cover housing support, Maroon said.

Besides treatment, the project includes a wraparound approach, and both start by someone calling 888-891-0027, Grohs said. Then, the caller is screened to determine the closest treatment center to them and other resources they may need, she said.

For example, a person with addiction in Walla Walla likely would go to BMH2H and see Physician Assistant Nadean Pulfer, who is qualified to prescribe buprenorphine/naloxone or other medication, to help alleviate opioid addiction, Maroon said.

The medication can be a game-changer.

Johanna Reeves, a nurse who works for Grohs at Consistent Care, said one of the things Suboxone — the brand name for buprenorphine and naloxone combined — does is attach to the brain’s receptors for several days, which partially block opioids.

She and Grohs are responsible for the wraparound portion of the program, Reeves said.

“Our part is to do case managing,” she said. “A nurse and social worker see what resources they need. We help link them with transportation, housing, take them to the store, connect with other resources. It just depends on their need.”

One of those resources includes a primary care physician, she said — of which they’re trying to recruit more — who are certified to prescribe Suboxone. Grohs said medical providers must take a four-hour course to receive a Drug Enforcement Administration “X number,” which gives them a waiver allowing them to prescribe the drug.

“There are only certain doctors who can do it right now,” Grohs said.

Consistent Care also is trying to entice more patients, she said. Reeves said she and others are visiting various places, such as mealtimes at New Beginnings Chapel, and giving information on the program.

Blue Mountain Heart to Heart, of course, already had patients in the program, Maroon said, as they had contact with likely candidates through their syringe exchange. He said people had been waiting for him to tell them the program was running so they could enroll.

Long-term help

After patients have received care for about four months, depending on the person, they are handed off to their physician to continue providing Suboxone as needed, Reeves said. However, if someone is struggling, she said, the Opioid Resource Network could step back in to help.

One of the most important things is for patients to want change, Grohs said.

“They have to want to do it,” Grohs said.

She and others discovered who might want to change through the syringe exchange, which provides free, clean syringes in exchange for dirty ones to users to help prevent diseases, she said.

“We ask them, ‘If you’re not ready to quit, would you be willing to cut down or use clean needles?’” she said. “Then we build that relationship. We have to meet them where they’re at.”

After meeting someone wherever they were in recovery or addiction, Maroon said, he hoped as many as possible could remain sober, even though some said the program would be worth it for just one person.

But sobriety only happened if they wanted it, he said.

“We just try to remove as many barriers as possible to help increase the likelihood of sobriety,” Maroon said. “But there are always some people who won’t adhere to treatment … The way opioid addiction works is you have recovery, then relapse, recovery, and relapse. Sometimes it takes somebody several times before they’re successful in recovery. They just need somebody to help them along the way.”

Emily Thornton can be reached at or 509-526-8325.

Emily Thornton covers courts and emergency services, as well as other various stories. She has been in the newspaper industry off and on since roughly 1999 and lived primarily on the West Coast, but also Florida and Europe.

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