“Recovery is miraculous”: Advocates speak out as Board proclaims September 2022 Recovery Month

September 13, 2022

For Jerrod Murray, recovery is more than just a motto.

It’s a movement of miracles, he said. It’s all the smiles when his community gathers around the ceremonial drum. It’s the glow of a mother reconnecting with her children. Recovery, he said, is for every person, every family, every community.

Murray is in long-term recovery himself, approaching 10 years of sobriety. Today he’s the executive director of Painted Horse Recovery — a culturally specific recovery program helping Native Americans find recovery with the help of peer services.

“Recovery is miraculous, especially when we invest in services that cultivate it,” Murray said. 

(Left to right): Mario Cardenas, Jerrod Murray, and Coretta King testify before the Board of Commissioners

Murray was one of the invited guests Thursday, Sept. 8, when the Board of County Commissioners proclaimed September 2022 as Recovery Month in Multnomah County. The County observes Recovery Month each year to raise awareness about the challenges of living with substance use disorder, as well as the treatment options available to help people heal. 

After more than two years of COVID-19, Multnomah County has seen a dramatic increase in the rates and severity of substance use disorder, with local deaths skyrocketing 41%, compared to 16% nationwide.

“As an ER doctor, I have seen thousands of people come into the ER in all stages of addiction,” Commissioner Sharon Meieran said. “We don’t have the systems in place because we don’t have the resources. . . . we need it all and so much more.”

Despite the growing prevalence of substance use disorder, stories of success and recovery continue to emerge. With the passage of Oregon Ballot Measure 110, more options are becoming available to meet people’s unique needs, Murray told commissioners. 

There is no single “right” way to access help, with numerous options including prevention, harm reduction, housing, employment support, treatment and peer recovery support. The bulk of Measure 110’s funding is just now reaching treatment and other service providers, and advocates say the full impact of the ballot measure will be felt in the months ahead.

People touched by substance use disorder share their stories 

At 15 years old, Coretta King started dating a man named Robert. The relationship started well, she said, but soon they were drinking constantly. In time, Robert started using substances and became abusive.

The more he abused her, the more she drank. It became her coping mechanism. Later in the relationship, she became pregnant. Five months later, she tragically lost her child.

“After the loss of my child, my drinking picked up and I went into a major depression stage,” she said. “During this time, I cut everyone off in order to hide my drinking and my abuse.”

Every time she tried to leave the relationship, Robert convinced her to stay. Each time she tried to quit drinking, she picked it back up. Finally, the relationship came to an end when Robert was killed. She spiraled further into her addiction.

Later, after she became pregnant again and delivered her son, King was able to stay sober for a while. But by the time he was 2 years old, she relapsed, believing that she was “in the clear because I no longer had to breastfeed,” King said.

“I fell back into a nonstop depression. I drank until I got sick and tired and sick and tired and sick.”

For the past eight years, she said, she’s been a functioning alcoholic. But recently, she finally decided she needed to do something different. For the first time in her life, she opened herself to treatment. She checked herself into detox.

“I can proudly say I have been clean and sober for over 30 days and looking forward to many more,” she said.

Mario Cardenas is a program coordinator for the Promoting Access to Hope (PATH) program. He’s in long-term recovery, with nine years of sobriety. Prior to that, he spent 35 years suffering from addiction. Many of the clients he serves are houseless or at risk of becoming houseless.

The PATH program connects people to recovery services and helps them overcome barriers that can keep them out of housing. The goal is to meet people where they are, through a range of services including detox, outpatient medication-assisted treatment and residential treatment. 

A first-generation Mexican, Cardenas knows firsthand the barriers to treatment. Now he helps provide culturally specific services for other people of color. He urged the Board of Commissioners to continue expanding investments in treatment options that account for people’s cultural background and experiences.

“We do recover. I’m a testament to that,” Cardenas said. “ We have to keep supporting our community. That’s the most important thing.”

New wave of investments offer hope

“We recognize there is hope and we all deserve the opportunity to live a full and healthy life,” said Julie Dodge, who directs Multnomah County’s Behavioral Health Division. “We acknowledge the commitment of our staff and community partners who dedicate themselves to helping all those touched by substance use disorder.”

More hope is on the horizon, with a wave of new programs slated to come online. These programs have shifted from strict abstinence models to include trauma-informed harm reduction policies. Many programs employ peers with lived experience or reduce barriers by removing abstinence requirements.

Multnomah County is making new investments in culturally specific services, too. In the past year, the County has added or expanded contracts with providers such as Painted Horse, the Miracles Club, Central City Concern’s Puentes program and FaithBridge. The goal is to better meet the needs of communities most impacted by health disparities.

Seeing as how programs that employ peers see improved outcomes, the County is also working on further integrating people with lived experience into peer recovery mentor roles. One example is Portland-based 4D Recovery. The peer-led addiction recovery program saw a 39% increase in the number of clients served in the first half of 2022 compared to the same timeframe in 2021. 

“We’re going to keep working together to get more services,” Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson said. “We’re going to continue to listen and invest.”

“Things are happening,” Commissioner Lori Stegmann said. “It’s not enough, but we’re moving in the right direction."