Heroin has plagued in Portland for generations. Stigma, confusion and cost lay before the various solvers of this problem: county bureaucrats shuffled their feet and ponder early retirement if confronted with facts, treatment providers point fingers, civic leaders shield themselves with platitudes.

Yet humans have pointlessly died in Portland – thousands of them. Most went without sufficient medical intervention. Many end up in jail, prison, the madhouse, cycling through ineffective treatment centers and expensive hospitalizations.

Often by the end, junkies don’t really care if they are alive or dead. They’re cursed and know it.

Just off NE Broadway near the Memorial Coliseum is one family’s memory of their daughter, Jo-Lyn Rose who died in 1995.

Roses – our city’s emblem – rise from the left and create an arc of life, struck in the prime by lightening bolts. Then under gray rain clouds the blooms wilt and die. There is a tombstone, etc. Bleak.

Just after the mural was created I corresponded with one of the family members – I can’t quite remember, perhaps her mother. She was devastated, defeated, and perfectly aware her daughter had largely been abandoned by a complicated professional system of caretakers. She was sad, but also had resigned her daughters’ fate long before it occurred, withdrawing a safe distance to watch the slow motion disaster of her daughter’s death.

Of course it doesn’t have to happen. Actually Portland has one of the world’s best responses to heroin addiction – and addicts are eager to sign up. If they can get in the door. Independent assessment of the program’s success has been circulated for years. It’s been written about in the Oregonian extensively (Redemption Man – Clean For Real, the story of David Fitzgerald’s 12th Step is well worth reading). The program is managed by a thoughtful and respected agency.

People don’t have to die from heroin addiction in Portland. So the platitudes & shuffling as inexcusable as the long waits for treatment.

What’s utterly failed is leadership from Multnomah County’s Commissioners and executive healthcare management to fund this program.

Read about Central City Concern’s addiction programs.

You want evidence? There’s plenty. First – no one does this alone. See program evaluation from the CCC Mentor Program. Effective abstinance-based outpatient treatment is also well-documented. Finally, people places and things needs to change, and alcohol and drug free housing make that possible.

Without all three of these programs – it doesn’t work. Without sufficient funding – it doesn’t work.

But if you’re shooting dope and want to stop, or know someone else who is and does, this is the place to do whatever it takes to stop.

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