REMARKS AS PREPARED
August 16, 2018
Good morning, I’m Governor Kate Brown.
I am so grateful that you are all here today to discuss how best to tackle one of the most pressing issues families across Oregon face—addiction treatment and recovery. We are all too familiar with the impacts of this deadly crisis. We hear from families every day whose lives have been torn apart by addiction. We see how our foster care system has become overwhelmed by the children who have been left behind by it. And we watch as this crisis evolves and grows.
This summer, I had the chance to visit my uncle. He was the youngest of my dad’s brothers and we haven’t spent a lot of time together.
He reminded me of my family’s story.
My grandmother Lois, my dad’s mom, was a nurse; my grandfather was a doctor. He was brilliant, but he struggled with drug addiction most of his life.
They separated, living apart for many years, leaving my grandmother to raise their four young sons alone.
Living on nurses’ wages, it was terribly difficult for her; a constant and exhausting struggle to make ends meet.
But, she never stopped thinking about her sons’ future. Those four little boys kept her going. Mostly by her own example, she instilled in them the importance of self-reliance and hard work.
She taught them that the key to a better life was education, education, education.
All four boys finished high school, went on to college, and served in the military. Three became doctors; one became an engineer.
Many of you in this room may have heard me tell this story. But, it wasn’t until this summer when my uncle shared with me just how hard their lives were that I came to this realization:
Even though my dad and his brothers went on to lead successful lives, it’s clear that 40 to 60 years later, the course of my family was steered by addiction. Our lives are shaped by dealing with the aftereffects of my grandfather’s addiction and how my grandmother managed.
My uncle’s children’s lives were shaped by it, and his grandchildren’s.
Mine was too.
This realization made me reflect on the three most important factors that shape how we as a society and individuals deal with addiction treatment and recovery.
The first, stigma.
Addiction is a chronic disease, and needs to be treated as such. It isn’t a moral failing. It needs to be treated just as you would cancer or any other illness.
We must break through the barriers of shame to provide the best treatments possible first and the most effective assistance now.
We need to let people know that it is okay to come out of the shadows. That it is okay to ask for help. And that there is help that’s right for them.
I fought for ten years in the Capitol for behavioral health parity. Requiring insurance companies to cover drug and alcohol treatment and mental health. Ten years. To convince them to treat addiction just like any other chronic disease.
Prior to becoming Governor, I worked as a lawyer representing parents and children in the foster care system. I watched children come in and out of foster care as their parents struggled with substance use disorders, achieve recovery, and then relapse due to lack of support systems. As children struggled with a foster family they barely knew, their parents struggled with addictions that overwhelmed the treatment system.
In Oregon, sixty percent of foster children have at least one parent with substance abuse issues.
If we can make meaningful change in prevention we can create better lives for our families. We can see more success for students in our schools. We would lift a burden off our hospitals. And our law enforcement. And our prisons. We have to do that by expanding our programs and focusing on early identification, especially for our youth, young adults, and pregnant women.
Third, treatment and recovery.
We know that a one-size-fits-all approach to treatment doesn’t work. The road to recovery looks different for every individual. That’s why we need to think about it as a process tailored to a person’s unique circumstances and environment, turning away from a “fail-first” model that only perpetuates stigma and feelings of inadequacy.
All Oregonians should have access to evidence-based and high-quality treatment that works for them.
That means maintaining our gains in health care coverage and expanding them so Oregonians have access to services.
That means a multi-generational approach catered specifically to families. It means culturally appropriate treatments that meet individuals where they are.
It means making medication assisted treatment widely available in Oregon, including in our jails and prisons.
It means making sure the treatment community has appropriate support and adequate resources to do their essential work.
And it means making sure that we’re providing all additional support we can, like safe housing, so we can make sure that people can put their mental, physical and emotional focus on their recovery.
More than anything else, I’ve learned that it is critical that we understand how the impacts of substance use disorder ripple across our state, our communities and families. And by understanding, we can be more nimble in our approach and flexible in our response.
I hope we can continue to improve how we understand these trends and ensure that those battling this addiction can connect to appropriate treatment.
This requires a close partnership between health systems and providers of treatment and recovery service and law enforcement. It also requires that federal, state and local governments remain coordinated.
I know we all share the same goal: We must end this crisis of addiction by preventing new cases and expanding access to appropriate treatment and effective recovery services.
Because addiction recovery is an issue that unites us all. We are among the millions of Americans who has felt the impacts of addiction on our family, on our friends, and on our colleagues.
I look forward to today’s conversation, and to hearing from you about how we should be ready to respond in a rapidly changing environment.