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The Oregon Washington Health Network seeks to help people who are suffering from addiction and beginning Wednesday, Oct. 6, 2021, opens three drop-in peer centers in Umatilla County.

Locals struggling with substance use are getting new places to seek some help.

The Oregon Washington Health Network is opening three drop-in peer centers next week, one in Pendleton, one in Hermiston and one in Milton-Freewater. The centers will offer “low-barrier access for individuals and families that are struggling with substance use,” said Amy Ashton-Williams, the network’s executive director. “Our purpose is to offer some support and guidance.”

Ashton-Williams said the “peer movement has really exploded” in recent years, and it has given people with “lived experience” a chance to help other people. That is, a “peer,” who has a personal history with recovery and addiction, can help other people. They can share their own stories, relate to others and possibly even chart the recoveries of others.

Family members of people in crisis do not always know about available resources or the best next step, she said. Someone in that situation can meet with one of the center’s “peers,” people who are experienced with and understanding of life’s many difficulties.

The peers also are there to help individuals in recovery, seeking to end their use of alcohol or other drugs or to make their addictions safer. The network in such cases, directs people to harm-reduction resources, such as a needle-exchange program.

Professional staff work at each center, Ashton-Williams said. The Hermiston Center has two peer mentors, Pendleton has three peer mentors and Milton-Freewater has two peer mentors and two peer mentor supervisors. They all vary in education, as some have high school diplomas or GEDs, some have bachelor’s degrees and others are completing their master’s degrees. All staff, Ashton-Williams said, regardless of schooling, are familiar with resources and able to help.

The centers, Ashton-Williams said, are open to clients of different ages. They will even be able to help adolescents. Peers are also available by phone and services are free.

The centers also can help people with English or Spanish-language services, Ashton-Williams said. When individuals walk in, they will be met by someone who looks like them, speaks their language and knows their culture, provided they speak either English or Spanish.

“That was very important,” she said. Spanish language speakers, a large portion of her service areas, have a history of being neglected by programs similar to hers, she said.

She added, these centers will meet a great need. She said she fears increasing overdose rates in Umatilla County. The pandemic, she said, is likely exacerbating problems, isolating people.

The Oregon Washington Health Network will host grand openings Wednesday, Oct. 6, at each of the drop-in peer centers. The times and locations are as follows:

• 9-10 a.m. at the Hermiston Center, 165 S.W. Third St.

• 12-1 p.m. at the Pendleton Center at 200 S.E. Hailey Ave,, Suite 105/106.

• 3-4 p.m. at the Milton Center at 410 N. Main St., Milton-Freewater.

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