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Tiny Orting Grapples With An Opioid Problem

"Mt. Rainier from Orting, WA" by Lana_aka_BADGRL is licensed under CC by 2.0
The tiny city of Orting lies in the foothills of Mount Rainier

The nation's opioid addiction epidemic is a challenge for small, rural communities, where the fatal impacts can overwhelm local resources and treatment may be lacking. 

Finding relief from the crisis has been the topic of a months-long discussion in Orting, a rural community of 7,000 people in the foothills of Mount Rainier. 

The issue came to a head at a packed City Council meeting in February, days after a 21-year-old man died of an overdose. 

Some residents demanded that police shut down a property called "the farm,” where drug addicts are known to congregate and where the young man died.

“We showed up at the farm to pick his body up and we watched 20 people come in and out like it was a McDonald’s drive-in window to pick up drugs," said resident Brent Ferguson, who said he knew the man who died.

"They didn’t care that this body was laying in the barn.” 

Soon, the focus shifted to a lack of drug treatment in Orting, known for its annual pumpkin festival and views of the mountain. 

One resident stood up and told city officials that her daughter is a recovering addict. 

“She needs meetings every day, all day," Patti Justice said. "These kids all need meetings. That’s the one thing that helps them is each other.”  

Nine months later, those sorts of meetings are what city leaders are trying to bring to Orting.

City Council members and volunteers are looking to replicate a Seattle program called Recovery Café, which seeks to create a community of addicts who support each other in a café-like setting. 

David Uhl works for the Seattle nonprofit and has helped communities launch Recovery Cafés in Tacoma, Spokane, and beyond.

He said Orting would be the smallest town to adopt the program.

“Addiction and those struggling with a mental health challenge exist in every part of our state, in every community, and not just in the Seattle or Spokane cities of the world or of the country," he said.

The Pierce County Council voted to contribute $25,000 toward launching the program in Orting.

City Council members are considering adding $7,500 to the effort in their 2018 budget. The council is expected to vote on the budget in December. 

"People that want to be in treatment need a lot of support," said Orting Mayor Joe Pestinger. "That's the intent of this Recovery Café, to give them the support that is so vital for their success." 

Will James is a former KNKX reporter and was part of the special projects team, reporting and producing podcasts such as Outsiders and The Walk Home.