The Benton Franklin Recovery Coalition is leading the way to increase treatment resources for substance use in its counties, changing the conversation around substance use and mental health that is too often a narrative of despair, hopelessness, and stigmatization.

With dedication, commitment, and passion for promoting recovery, the Benton Franklin Recovery Coalition is championing a request for $2.7M for Benton County to study and build an addiction recovery center in Kennewick. This facility would serve as a crucial resource in a region that has a severe lack of access to behavioral health services.

Michele Gerber, Ph.D, is the founder and board President of the Benton Franklin Recovery Coalition — and she’s leading the charge, along with other grassroots community activists in their counties. “I will measure success by the number of people who come in defeated, sick and hopeless, but leave as happy, productive people restored to their true selves.” she said in a recent media interview.

Given the increase in overdose and substance use over the course of the pandemic, advocacy for treatment resources like Michele and the Benton Franklin Recovery Coalition are rallying for is more important than ever. Michele has been a leader in the work to bring a treatment center to a region that has seen overdose deaths increase in the year since the COVID-19 pandemic began. The city of Pasco alone had 7 overdoses during January-February 2021.

On December 17th 2020, the CDC Health Alert Network alerted public health departments, healthcare professions, first responders, harm reduction organizations, laboratories, medical examiners and coroners of the increase in fatal drug overdoses across the united states driven by synthetic Opioids before and during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Specifically, they were alerted to-

(1) substantial increases in drug overdose deaths across the United States, primarily driven by rapid increases in overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids excluding methadone (hereafter referred to as synthetic opioids), likely illicitly manufactured fentanyl;

(2) a concerning acceleration of the increase in drug overdose deaths, with the largest increase recorded from March 2020 to May 2020,coinciding with the implementation of widespread mitigation measures for the COVID-19 pandemic;

(3) the changing geographic distribution of overdose deaths 

involving synthetic opioids, with the largest percentage increases occurring in states in the western United States;

(4) significant increases in overdose deaths involving psychostimulants with abuse potential (hereafter referred to as psychostimulants) such as methamphetamine; and

(5) recommendations for communities when responding to the evolving overdose crisis.

“These newly released provisional fatal overdose data, coupled with the known disruption to public health, healthcare, and social services as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and related mitigation measures, highlight the need for essential services to remain accessible for those most at risk of overdose and the need to expand prevention and response activities.” (HAN)

Essential services for people at risk of overdose include support and a sense of community, in addition to actual medical treatment for substance use disorders. Advocacy and education are foundational tools that are critical in creating the systems people need to get well and get into recovery. These are the tools Michele is using so adeptly to shape the treatment services and recovery supports that are available to people in Benton and Franklin counties. 

We are so grateful to Michele for her leadership, and we’re inspired every day by the monumental changes that community members like her — and you! — can create.

To learn more about the Benton Franklin Recovery Coalition and get involved, visit 509recovery.org.

To find your own local recovery coalition, visit the WRA coalition page.