To the public, Lisa Dugan is known as the Director of the North Coast Regional Department of Child Support Services. In private she’s a mother facing the fact that her family was plagued by Humboldt County’s opioid crisis.
“We just don’t talk about it. It’s shameful. It’s stigmatized,” she said as she revealed to an audience of nearly 300, at the Sequoia Conference Center, that her daughter Allison was addicted to opioids and is now close to being released from federal prison.
“I never thought I’d be in this position. I never thought that my family would be in this position that they have been in." Dugan said as part of a panel on the California Opioid Crisis: Focusing on solutions for the North Coast. "Last week I had the courage to put on Facebook that I was going to come here today and I was going to talk to people about my daughter’s addiction.”
Dugan then pointed to a large screen that showed a photo of her daughter. Allison used to work at Costco and Dugan described her as a loving, helpful and kind person before her addiction began when a friend offered her pills to help with the long hours of work.
Dugan said Allison would make up scenarios to gain access to more pills like say she was in a car accident to get pain meds or steal medication from her two grandmothers. Her habit became expensive. Her story is similar to many in a county that has an opioid overdose rate that’s nearly five times the state average.
Senator Mike McGuire, who along with District Supervisor Virginia Bass, moderated the panel where Dugan and other community advocates spoke about addiction solutions for the North Coast.
“Communities big and small, up and down the California coast and throughout our nation are facing similar challenges and it impacts all of us here in Eureka and throughout the North Coast,” McGuire said. “Humboldt is not alone in trying to combat this crisis. Many regions in our country are struggling with what most experts call the worst drug crisis in American history.”
Statewide, the California Department of Health Care Services noted that it only takes 7 days for people to become addicted to opioids and that 74 percent of people with those addictions receive the pills from friends or family.
The panel consisted of community and medical care experts who weighed in on the situation.
Dr. Donald Baird of Humboldt County Public Health advocated that fixing the problem starts with understanding within the community and that addiction does not affect just one type of person.
“Keep in mind that the people that have overdosed are our friends and neighbors. I keep hearing about all of these homeless people coming in and flooding our community," Baird said. "Our data says something quite different than that. The vast majority of these people own homes. They’ve been in this county for more than 25 years and are possibly 50 years old as an average. "
Meanwhile, the state of California was given a federal grant to help combat the opioid crisis. Humboldt County is set to receive part of that relief, including local coalition for opioid safety Rx Safe Humboldt, which recently received nearly $4.9 million to be split over the course of two years.
The conversations with the panel lasted more than several hours but at the end of the presentation, McGuire and District Supervisor Bass said they expect to stage another town hall on opioids between February and March of next year.