Happy New Year to all our loyal Post-Record readers. Here are a few “cheers” to help kick off the New Year’s celebrations this weekend:
Our first Cheers goes out to a couple public servants who have spent the past 25 years working to make Camas-Washougal a better — and safer — place to live, work and play. Camas City Councilman Greg Anderson and East County Fire & Rescue Fire Chief Mike Carnes both announced this month that they are hanging up their official public servant hats (though we suspect both men will likely still help out their community in a variety of other ways). Camas officials and staff celebrated Anderson’s 25 years of service earlier this month and wished the councilman known for his steady, thoughtful and calm demeanor even in the face of controversy and public finger-pointing a fond farewell. The public will have the chance to do the same for ECFR Fire Chief Carnes — another person who oozes “calm in the eye of the storm” energy — this week, during an open house set for 2 to 4 p.m. Friday, Dec. 30, at ECFR Fire Station 91, located at 600 N.E. 267th Ave., near Grove Field north of Camas. Thanks goes out to Anderson and Carnes for their years of service and for their willingness to help guide and mentor the next generation of city councilors and ECFR firefighters.
Our second Cheers goes out to another set of community helpers who have a much lower public profile: the volunteers who help keep the region’s wintertime and severe weather homeless shelters open during the darkest, coldest, wettest months of the year. As we noted in a Dec. 1 front-page story, shelter volunteers are still needed throughout the Camas-Washougal and greater Vancouver area. And, for those who can’t donate their time, the shelters are always in need of money to help provide food, bus tickets, toiletries and other things that help people forced to live on the streets survive another winter. As the Council for the Homeless noted: “For those living outside, winter can be a particularly harsh experience” and though the Council’s ultimate goal is to find permanent housing for Clark County residents experiencing homelessness, the fact remains that “emergency shelter is lifesaving.” The stories of what happens inside these shelters is heartwarming. Pastor Adrienne Strehlow, with the Immanuel Lutheran Church in Vancouver, said her favorite time is when she gets to sit down for a communal meal with the families and individuals who depend on the winter shelters. “All of us sitting there, having time to connect and be equals. It’s my favorite time,” Stehlow said. For more information about volunteering at Clark County’s winter overflow or severe weather shelters, visit councilforthehomeless.org/winter-shelter-volunteering.
A third Cheers is to the folks at the Washougal School District who have the foresight to stock all Washougal schools with naloxone, a life-saving medication that can reverse an opioid overdose. As Washougal School Board President Cory Chase said earlier this year, “It’s unfortunate that we’re talking about this, but it’s reality.” Indeed, as the American Medical Association noted in a Dec. 22 brief, “the nation’s drug-related overdose and death epidemic continues to worsen.” And while doctors and dentists are now, thankfully, prescribing fewer opioids for moderate pain than they were a decade ago, as the AMA pointed out in its 2022 Overdose Epidemic Report, though “opioid prescribing continues (its) downward trend, overdose(s) and death related to illicitly manufactured fentanyl, methamphetamine and cocaine increased.” The AMA has urged policymakers and physicians to “help end the nation’s drug-related overdose and death epidemic” by relying on evidence-based remedies, including providing greater access to Naloxone.
There is no doubt our country is struggling with drug addiction and overdose deaths related to illicitly manufactured fentanyl, methamphetamine and cocaine. In fact, more than 107,000 Americans died of a drug overdose between January 2021 and January 2022, according to the AMA. But drug overdose deaths pale in comparison to the number of Americans who have lost their lives to the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) that causes COVID-19. According to Statista, between Jan. 1, 2020, and Dec. 21, 2022, nearly 1.1 million Americans — including 1,402 children younger than 17, and 267,781 people between the ages of 18 and 64 — died from COVID-19. The virus was the leading cause of death in some areas of the world, including Mexico, in 2021, and was the third-leading cause of death in the U.S. in 2022 for the second consecutive year. Combined with drug overdose deaths, COVID-19 contributed to “a significant decline” in our nation’s life expectancy, which is now, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) at its lowest level (76.4 years) in two decades. Knowing this, our final Cheers of the month is for the fact that public officials charged with protecting the public are finally starting to hold people accountable for spreading disinformation during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. This includes the Washington State Medical Commission, which recently announced it has indefinitely suspended the medical license of a Washougal physician assistant who railed against public health mandates put in place to slow the spread of COVID-19 and help rein in the deadliest pandemic in U.S. history.
May we all go into 2023, a little wiser to the COVID-19 disinformation — mostly coming from far-right media and social media sites — that has plagued us during the pandemic and a little more compassionate for the people who have been devastated not just by COVID, but also by the ongoing opioid epidemic.