One morning last year, Brent Simcosky stepped out of a pickup truck in the middle of a sprawling field off Highway 101, stood in grass that brushed his knees and imagined an oasis from the scourge of opioids.
The epidemic had struck particularly hard here in Clallam County, where generations of families from the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe live along the waterways of the Salish Sea. Simcosky, health director for the 537-member tribe, had too often seen the battered faces of neighbors and community members addicted to black tar heroin that sells for $5 a hit or to pain pills that for years saturated this remote corner of the Pacific Northwest.
In Washington, with 29 federally recognized tribes, Native Americans have died of opioid overdoses at a rate nearly three times higher than that of nonnatives. For heroin alone, it was four times higher, federal data shows. The tribe planned to offer treatment to residents — native and nonnative — across two counties.
“Indians,” tribe Chairman Ron Allen told Simcosky, “can be part of the solution.”
In May 2019, the tribe bought the land. The purchase initially drew little attention in Sequim, population 7,000, a town of retirees, artisan shops and an annual lavender festival that brings flocks of tourists every summer.
But a group of local residents rallied to block the project, arguing that tiny Sequim was no place for a regional drug treatment center. When tribe leaders called a public meeting to present their plan, more than 1,000 people spilled into a steamy room at the civic center and onto hundreds of folding chairs set up outside.
Scores came from a newly formed group: Save Our Sequim (SOS), a name that became a rallying cry.
SOS members worry a treatment facility would draw too many outsiders struggling with addiction into a small community without adequate law enforcement and social services. Tourism could falter. Housing prices could drop. Schools could quickly become overwhelmed, SOS members have argued.
Read more on the WashingtonPost.com.