The Spokane Regional Health District has opened a new facility to house its opioid addiction services — expanding treatment as more and more Spokane residents experience addiction to opioids like heroin, fentanyl and prescription drugs.
SRHD Medical Officer Dr. Frank Velasquez said the new facility, located south of downtown at 311 West 8th Avenue, will be instrumental in helping people with opioid addiction in the city.
“Our goal is to be able to provide our patients and their community with a space that is not only necessary but appropriate for the journey that our patients are trying to take,” he said at Friday’s open house.
Opioid Treatment Services Program Director Misty Challinor said the new facility was “a long time coming.”
“I have worked in this program for over 15 years and have seen phenomenal changes for a large number of people. Everyone takes their time, Challinor said. “Our goal is to really help them build a foundation. And the people who come to us really want to change their lives and build a foundation for their recovery.
Treatments provided by the program include, but are not limited to, individual counseling, group therapy, case management, and medical treatment for withdrawal symptoms. By prescribing methadone and similar medications, health professionals at the clinic can manage their patients’ withdrawal symptoms, reduce opioid cravings, and blunt the effects of the opioid if it is used.
“They come, they take medicine – it helps them not to become abstinent.” Ultimately, it helps them be productive members of society, take care of their families, go to work, go to school, be the best version of themselves,” Challinor said.
The opioid epidemic is a growing problem across the country and in Spokane. For every 100,000 residents of Spokane County, 24.1 people died of an opioid overdose in 2021 – a total of 126 opioid-related deaths that year. More than 80% of these deaths were specifically related to fentanyl. Opiate-related deaths in Spokane County doubled between 2020 and 2021, according to data from the Washington State Department of Health.
Challinor argued that increased services are needed to provide care for all those who have been or may be diagnosed with an opioid use disorder.
“What we realized very quickly is that not only is our patient population and the need in the community growing rapidly, but to meet their needs, it is essential that we offer expanded services. But we couldn’t do that in our current structure. We had expanded there as much as we could, and it wasn’t enough,” she said.
The Spokane Regional Health District has begun discussions to move the treatment facility on the ground floor of their College Street complex into its own building. The district began leasing the 8th Avenue location from the county in February. Since then, the neighborhood has renovated its interior and updated its material base.
Compared to the single floor in their previous building, the new opioid program has five floors to house the same staff. Challinor also noted that the building allows the program to expand and hire more staff as the demand for opioid recovery treatment increases.
“We’ve never had a limit on the patients we can provide care to, but the obstacle has been that we haven’t had the space to hire more staff who can handle more patients,” she said. The county will not hire additional staff when the new facility opens, but is willing to “hire new staff as the community needs them,” Challinor added.
Nurse Deanna Shaughnessy said the new facility would be “invaluable” in her work treating people with addiction.
“I will no longer be crushed in my office. And these facilities are just going to be more convenient for patients, and that’s the most important thing,” she said.
The facility is more centrally located for patients who live primarily in the city center and might have difficulty getting to the previous location across the river. The location’s proximity to Spokane’s hospital system will also be beneficial for patients moving between facilities, Challinor said.
The vast majority of the clinic’s patients are covered by Medicare and Medicaid, but Challinor noted that their doors are open to anyone experiencing opiate abuse or addiction.
“Stigma is something that is really detrimental to anyone struggling with any type of addiction or working on recovery. Because addiction is something that can happen to anyone. And the stigma that comes with that when they’re working to try to overcome these struggles is really harmful,” she said. “It’s really important for us as individuals, family and friends, and as a community, to really be aware and do what we can to support people in our communities.” Because it’s not something people choose.
Those interested in getting treatment for their opioid addiction can get more information at srhd.org/programs-and-services/opioid-treatment-program or by calling 509-324-1420.