Anthony Jordan has empathy for people struggling with substance use.
More than 30 years ago, at the height of his addiction, he was “homeless, hopeless, helpless.” He used substances every day, hoping that he’d at least have an easy death. To borrow a common phrase, he said he was ”living to use, and using to live.”
But his trajectory changed when a stranger stopped Jordan and told him he was going to be somebody. Those words stuck with him and helped motivate him to enter treatment.
He took his recovery one day at a time. If his initial attempt at 90 days of sobriety didn’t work out, then at least he could return to drug use, he figured. But to this day, he hasn’t looked back. He’s now the Addiction Services manager for Multnomah County and celebrates 32 years of recovery on Sept. 17, 2023.
“In the midst of all of the suffering, there are glimpses of hope,” Jordan told the Board of County Commissioners on Thursday, Sept. 14. “People are finding ways to get out of their addiction, and onto the road of recovery. I am one of those people.”
Jordan spoke alongside dozens of other people in recovery as the Board proclaimed September 2023 as Recovery Month in Multnomah County. Recovery Month raises awareness about substance use disorder and brings community members together to share inspiring stories of healing.
The proclamation also comes as Multnomah County — and communities across the country — grapple with the impacts of fentanyl and synthetic drugs. From 2018 to 2022, the Multnomah County Health Department has reported a 533% increase in synthetic drug overdoses.
Chair Jessica Vega Pederson said the County has prioritized outreach, stabilization, treatment and sobering and is working with its community partners to do even more. The Health Department runs 18 prevention programs, 27 harm reduction programs and 13 treatment programs, with seven focused on recovery. The County also distributes more than 50,000 naloxone/Narcan kits yearly.
Dozens of community members packed the boardroom to share their own stories of hope and recovery. Speakers on Thursday also pressed the Board of County Commissioners for more investments in detox, recovery housing and treatment.
“I hear loud and clear what you are all asking for,” Commissioner Susheela Jayapal said. “What I heard was a demand... for treatment and, because we’re talking about housing funds, a demand for transitional, stabilization and recovery housing.”
Much of the emotional testimony also touched on how the Board should invest more than $50.4 million in Supportive Housing Services funds that the County received from Metro beyond Metro’s initial budget forecasts. Later in the meeting Thursday, the Board discussed plans for how to allocate those funds.
“Not only do I support this programming, but I also support increased investments in recovery-oriented programming,” Chair Vega Pederson said. “Many investments I and this Board are making are specifically to address our behavioral health and substance abuse continuum of care.”
‘Recovery Month is for everyone’
The Recovery Month tagline — “Recovery Month is for everyone: every person, every family, every community” — recognizes the role of community. It underscores that recovery is not only for those struggling with addiction, but also their families, allies who want to help and the broader community.
Statistics show that most people who struggle with substance use disorder begin in their adolescent years. That was the case for Ana Hilde, a child and adolescent psychiatrist with the Native American Rehabilitation Association of the Northwest.
The first time Hilde had alcohol, she blacked out — an early warning sign. She continued to binge alcohol for many years as an adolescent, even as she continued to be a high achiever. Looking back, she said she recognizes that she was using substances to manage underlying mental health issues.
Her condition progressed, and she became addicted to heroin. At the same time, she earned acceptance into medical school. Before it was too late, she had a wake-up call and checked herself into Hooper Detox, an inpatient center operated by Central City Concern.
But after a brief rebound, she relapsed. And this time, things were worse. At the peak of her struggle, Hilde said, she lost her will to live. That’s when she had a moment of clarity and reached out to someone she knew in recovery who urged her to get help. She took a leave from school and re-entered treatment.
“My life got really, really small,” Hilde said. “I could see my life was tilting and about to fall over, and I feel really fortunate that I could sort of see all of that coming and I asked for help.”
After a difficult journey, she stabilized and completed medical school, getting into residency. She received a degree in adolescent psychiatry, and now she helps other people in similar situations. She also is the proud mother of a 10-year-old daughter.
“We have an opportunity to change the trajectory of people’s lives,” she said. “I get to be the best version of myself each and every day, and I work so that I can help other people to be the best version of themselves each and every day.”
Hilde attributes her recovery to community. People surrounded her and walked alongside her throughout her journey, she said. She tells others that’s what recovery is all about.
Sadie Campbell, a peer program specialist with the County Behavioral Health Division’s Office of Consumer Engagement, went on to read the proclamation. The Board adopted the proclamation unanimously, officially recognizing September as Recovery Month in Multnomah County.
Board pledges action on homelessness and recovery
Commissioners praised members of the recovery community for telling their stories and coming together to raise awareness about Oregon’s addiction crisis.
In a recent tour of Hooper Detox, Commissioner Lori Stegmann said, she learned that the program sees 3,000 people each fiscal year, and they are forced to turn away 1,700. She underscored the urgency of funding more programming to bridge that gap.
“These are people who voluntarily want help and support,” she said. “It seems like we’re ignoring the people who are begging for services, and I think that those people end up being service-resistant at some point if we don’t intervene.”
Commissioner Julia Brim-Edwards thanked those who testified, saying their remarks were a “gift” to the Board, as decision makers and policymakers, as they continue to discuss how to make targeted investments with unanticipated Supportive Housing Services funds.
“We have an unprecedented opportunity to make a huge investment in recovery housing and treatment,” Commissioner Brim-Edwards said. “I’m really appreciative that each one of you who told your stories, or shared it in other forums with us, that you have given us the foundation and inspired us to take that big swing and really make a difference.”
Looking ahead, Commissioner Sharon Meieran emphasized the need to take bold action to address the overlapping crises of homelessness and addiction in Multnomah County. She echoed Board members’ pledges to listen directly to the recovery community as the Board looks to vote on additional funding for homeless services.
“It’s time to aim high, and community and connection is the foundation on which recovering and healing can happen,” Commissioner Meieran said. “Thank you to this community who has shown up today in such a beautiful way.”
“This is about action,” Chair Vega Pederson said. “I think you will see that in the investments we’re doing.”