BEND, Ore. — A young woman sat alone in the lobby of the Deschutes County Jail. Her husband, who struggles with addiction, was arrested that afternoon while visiting their 3-year-old son. Children’s wooden toys and books were haphazardly scattered across the table in front of her, a stark representation of the toll his addiction has taken on their family.
“I can’t believe this is my life,” she said. “It’s terrible, horrific.”
She watched in fear over the past year as her husband’s life spiraled out of control once he started using fentanyl pills, or “blues” as they're often called.
“My husband is a carpenter. He was sober a long time and then he started using blues and lost his job, lost his family, we’re getting a divorce, lost his house, lost his cars,” she explained. “It’s terrifying. You don’t know if you’re going to see them again, if you’re going to hear from them, you don’t know if they’re going to overdose and die.”
He's currently homeless in Portland. She's tried getting him into detox centers, but rarely are there available beds at the time he’s ready for help.
“It gets to the point where you can’t help them, they have to find the help themselves,” she said.
A new form of addiction help is coming to the Deschutes County Jail. It’s a program her husband would be a candidate for. It’s called medication-assisted treatment or MAT. It’s an opioid detox method that relies on medications and counseling instead of withdrawal.
“It lowers the risk of all the pain and all the suffering they have to go through so we can really start talking about why they are using drugs and how do we move them off of this without all the pain,” said Cpt. Michael Shults with the Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office.
The program will be paid for with grant money through Measure 110, the controversial law that Oregon voters approved in 2020 to decriminalize low-level drug possession and offer health assessments and access to treatment instead. It uses marijuana tax money to pay for recovery services and peer support specialists.
“There’s light on the other side — you don’t have to live in the bondage or the insanity of it,” said Shawnda Jennings, a peer support specialist at the Deschutes County Jail.
Jennings suffered a decades-long addiction to heroin before getting clean. The only program that helped her reach sobriety was MAT. Now, she connects inmates with the same treatment.
“I’m so grateful that I was able to get out of it because I probably would be dead,” she said.
While Measure 110 may be revolutionizing addiction treatment in Central Oregon, some local law enforcement officials are still skeptical.
“I have a lot of support for the spirit of the idea, but as it's written and as it's progressed I think it’s a disaster,” said Deschutes County Sheriff Shane Nelson. “You can’t have a system that guides people to treatment on just incentive alone — you have to have a consequence sometimes."
The jail is currently in the process of hiring nurse practitioners to run the MAT program. Once they have enough staff, they hope to launch it in March.