Sen. Murray talks opioid crisis, need for more funding during Richland stop

U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., speaks Wednesday at Kadlec Regional Medical Center in Richland about the opioid epidemic and the need for more funding.
U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., speaks Wednesday at Kadlec Regional Medical Center in Richland about the opioid epidemic and the need for more funding. Courtesy Kadlec Regional Medical Center

It started out slowly for Mechele Finley.

Just on the weekends.

Her friend had surgery and shared some of the pain pills.

“It was a relaxation thing,” said Finley, 34, of Yakima. “I liked the way it felt.”

But soon she was hooked, taking as much as 900 milligrams a day at the height of her addiction, which raged for years.

“My life revolved around getting pain pills,” Finley said.

She lied, she hurt people she loved.

Eventually, she made a change — seeking treatment and turning her life around.

“I now live a normal life. I work, just like you. I raise my kids. I’m working on building trust back for the lies I told and the people I betrayed,” she said.

Finley shared her story Wednesday in Richland with Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., who stopped at Kadlec Regional Medical Center to talk about the growing opioid epidemic and steps she’s taking to curtail it.

Those steps include championing the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, or CARA, which expands access to the kind of medication-assisted treatment that helped Finley.

CARA also establishes new federal programs to prevent overdose deaths, strengthens state prescription drug monitoring programs and expands the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program, according to information from Murray’s office.

President Obama signed it into law last month.

“The epidemic of prescription drug and heroin addiction has caused enormous pain across our state for far too long. It can happen to anyone, and it is everywhere,” Murray said.

The work is far from over, she added, noting she that she introduced legislation to provide another $920 million to combat the crisis.

Murray was joined at the podium by Dr. John Matheson, emergency department chairman and medical director at Kadlec, and Dr. Jeffrey Allgaier, president and CEO of Ideal Option treatment center.

Ideal is based in the Tri-Cities and treats patients in Washington and beyond, including Finley.

Allgaier said heroin and pain pills have “fueled an epidemic where drug overdoses now cause more deaths than automobile accidents.”

More than 2.5 million people in the U.S are addicted to opioids, he said. The vast majority don’t want to stay that way; they’re “actively pleading for our help.”

“As evidence of this, our waiting list in Eastern Washington alone is over 500 current patients,” Allgaier said.

But there aren’t enough resources. “Putting (people) on waiting lists has been the response to their cries for help, when we know that for many people opioid addiction leads to a life of deceit, broken relationships, financial ruin, criminal activity, prison, and, ultimately, death for a lot of folks,” he said.

He praised Murray for helping with a rule change that expands patients’ access to Suboxone, a medication that treats opioid addiction.

He said CARA opens the door for even more access.

“This type of leadership is truly lifesaving,” he said.

Capt. Stein Karspeck of the Richland Fire Department also spoke about the effects he’s seen as a first responder.

Murray said she’ll keep pushing and working. And others must, too.

“I believe its going to take all of us, together, to deliver the resources we need and the help we need to make a real difference for so many families here in the Tri-Cities and across our state and country,” she said.

Sara Schilling: 509-582- 1529, @SaraTCHerald