Spokane Regional Health District opens new opioid treatment clinic

The Spokane Regional Health District has opened a new facility to provide opioid addiction services, expanding treatment as more Spokane residents become addicted to opioids such as heroin, fentanyl and prescription drugs.

SRHD Medical Officer Dr. Frank Velázquez said the new facility, located at 311 W. Eighth Avenue south of downtown, will help help the city’s opioid addicts.

“Our goal is to be able to provide our patients and their community with a space that is not only needed, but appropriate for the journey our patients are trying to go on,” he said at the facility’s open house on Friday.

Misty Challinor, program director for Opioid Treatment Services, said the new facility has been “long awaited.”

“I’ve been working on this program for over 15 years, and I’ve seen significant changes in most people. Everyone has their time,” Challino said. “Our goal is to really help them build a foundation. People who come to us really want to change their lives and build a foundation for their recovery.”

Treatment provided by the program includes, but is not limited to, individual counseling, group therapy, case management, and medication for withdrawal symptoms. By prescribing methadone and similar medications, clinic medical professionals can manage a patient’s withdrawal symptoms, reduce opioid cravings, and lessen the effects of opioids (if used).

“They come in, they get the medication – it helps them not go into withdrawal. It ultimately helps them become productive members of society, take care of their families, go to work and go to school and be the best version of themselves,” Charlie Nuo said.

The opioid epidemic is a growing problem across the country and in Spokane. In 2021, 24.1 people per 100,000 residents in Spokane County died from an opioid overdose — a total of 126 opioid-related deaths that year. More than 80% of these deaths were related to fentanyl. Opioid-related deaths doubled in Spokane County between 2020 and 2021, according to the Washington State Department of Health.

Challinor believes there is a need for increased services to provide care for all people who have been or may be diagnosed with opioid use disorder.

“We quickly realized that not only were our patient populations and community needs growing rapidly, but that in order to meet their needs, it was critical to provide expanded services. But within our current structure, we were unable to do this. We have Expand as much as possible there, but not nearly enough,” she said.

The Spokane Regional Health District has begun discussions about moving its treatment facility on the ground floor of the College Street complex into its own building. The district began leasing the Eighth Avenue location from the county in February. Since then, the district has undergone interior renovations and updated facilities.

The new opioid program has five floors to house the same staff, compared to the previous building’s single floor. Challino also noted that the building allows the program to expand and hire more staff as the need for opioid recovery treatment increases.

“We have never had a cap on the number of patients we can provide care, but one obstacle is that we don’t have the space to hire more staff who can handle more patients,” she said. Challino added that the district will not be hiring any additional staff when the new facility opens, but is prepared to “recruit new staff based on community needs.”

Senior registered nurse Dina Shaughnessy said the new facility will be “invaluable” to her work treating drug addicts.

“I won’t be stuck in an office anymore. These facilities will make patients feel more comfortable, which is the most important thing,” she said.

The facility is located in a more central location, suitable for patients who primarily live in the city center area and may have difficulty reaching the previous site across the river. The location’s proximity to Spokane’s hospital system will also facilitate patient movement between facilities, Challinor said.

The vast majority of the clinic’s patients are covered by Medicare and Medicaid, but Challino noted that their doors are open to anyone experiencing opioid abuse or addiction.

“The stigma is really harmful to anyone who is struggling with any kind of addiction or working towards recovery. Because addiction is something that can happen to anyone. As they struggle to overcome these struggles, it’s relevant to The stigma is really harmful,” she said. “It’s really important as individuals, as families and friends, and as a community to really recognize and do our best to support people in our community. Because this is not something people can choose to do.”

Those interested in receiving treatment for opioid dependence can visit srhd.org/programs-and-services/opioid-treatment-program or call 509-324-1420 for more information.

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