Twenty-nine years ago, Anthony Jordan’s addiction brought him to a crossroads. He had woken up at his mother’s house wanting to die, but not having the motivation to kill himself. He looked at his mother and saw a look of despair in her eyes. He knew he needed help.
At that moment, he knew he had two paths to choose from: he could pick jail, institutions, and possibly death, or he could try to get his life together. Next thing he knew, he was calling an addiction hotline. He told the voice on the phone he needed help.
Soon after, he found himself in a detox program in Chesapeake, Virginia. That’s the moment he made a commitment to never use drugs for the rest of his life. He’s been clean ever since. As if that wasn’t impressive enough, he now acts as the senior manager for the County’s Addiction and Substance Use Disorder program.
“Since that time I’ve been disciplined to try to stay clean a day at a time,” Jordan said. “For the people who are still struggling who may hear this, is that it doesn't really matter where you are. It's really what you do.”
Jordan was one of several guests who spoke Thursday, Sept. 17 as the Board of County Commissioners proclaimed September “Recovery Month” in Multnomah County. The annual event highlights the courage of members of the recovery community and sheds light on the work the County and its partners are doing to help support recovery locally.
Oregon has the third highest rate of substance use disorder in the United States and ranks 47th in providing access to treatment. Over the next five years, the County has embarked on a mission to help reduce Oregon’s untreated addiction rate from 9.5 percent to 6.5 percent, and increase the state’s recovery rate by 25 percent.
Despite those rates, Commissioner Sharon Meieran said, Oregon hasn’t raised the taxes on beer and wine in decades. A new proposal would increase the tax by 7 cents per 12-ounce serving of beer or cider and 23 cents on a five-ounce serving of wine. That translates to $293 million in new revenue for the Oregon Health Authority during the 2021-23 biennium.
“We're the third highest rate in substance abuse disorder and the third worst in access to treatment,” Commissioner Meieran said. “And our beer and wine taxes haven't gone up since the 1970s. Something doesn't compute here. We need those resources to be directed toward access to expand meaningful treatment and recovery services.”
Speakers emphasize connection during recovery
The theme of this year’s proclamation — connection — highlights the role of relationships in helping people in recovery. “In this time when connection is difficult and different, it seems more important than ever,” Commissioner Susheela Jayapal said. “And it seems more important than ever to share those stories and to show people that recovery is possible.”
Building on the theme of connection, the speakers told their stories of recovery and the role of community in their own journey. And for Jordan, it was the recovery community who helped him build the discipline he needed to stay clean, one day at a time.
“I moved to Virginia, and I didn’t know anyone,” Jordan said. “And I got connected with a recovery community who taught me a lot of lessons about how to stay clean one day at a time, how to connect with people.”
The recovery community also introduced him to a career in addiction services. In 1992, Jordan had a chance encounter with his counselor at a grocery store. She mentioned that she was working in a treatment program, and he would do a great job at helping people. He took the job, marking the beginning of a long career in recovery.
Jordan moved to Oregon in 1995 and continued his career in addiction services, building relationships in the recovery community along the way. After 20 years in the substance use disorder field, he joined the County in 2017, overseeing one of the largest addiction services programs in Oregon. Still, despite all his success, he said he can’t believe he gets to work alongside elected officials to advance recovery in Oregon.
“I am actually honored to talk to you and hear your story, and your lived experience because I think that that is the only way that we are really going to help people find their recovery,” Commissioner Lori Stegmann told him.
Jordan spoke alongside Deandre Kenyanjui, a coordinator for the County’s Office of Consumer Engagement, and Dalmar Mohamed, an African immigrant who shared his own battle with addiction and journey to recovery. As a recovery mentor, Mohamed supports people experiencing substance use disorder as they navigate through their recovery.
Originally from Somalia, Mohamed left the country at five years old with his father to pursue a life in the United States. Due to the complicated immigration process, his family wound up waiting in limbo in Kenya for several years. Eventually, their paperwork was approved and he wound up in Seattle.
Mohamed said he was grateful for the opportunity to travel to the United States. But at home, he suffered from mental and physical abuse. He hated where he lived. He wanted to escape reality. And at age 14, he began using drugs. That was the beginning of his downward spiral. At his lowest point, he was stealing from others and sleeping in doorways.
On Nov. 16, Mohamed celebrated one year of being clean. He credits his success to the recovery community, whose members mentored him and motivated him to stop using. “What I love about recovery, we are from different places, different countries, different cultures, different religions, and we can all be in the same room,” he said. “And we are all here to help each other out and love one another. Be there for one another.”
Connection can be hard to come by, especially during the pandemic, panelists said. As the Board celebrated the proclamation, commissioners urged people in recovery to find ways to connect despite being physically distant.
“As we all know, because of COVID, the way we have come together as a community, the way that we found support with each other in the past, looks totally different,” Commissioner Vega Pederson said. “I think that the work that I have seen in Oregon for the recovery community to go virtual and to reach out to folks and try to have those connections has been really incredible."