Tue, Jun 21, 2022 2:32 PM
By RaeLynn Ricarte, The Center Square
Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward recently led conversations at the U.S. Conference of Mayors about what the city is doing to battle a fentanyl epidemic, help people improve their mental health and fight an upsurge in violent crime.
Woodward received unanimous support for resolutions she championed there.
Two resolutions ask Congress to provide law enforcement at all levels with resources they need to address drug trafficking and bolster community policing programs. Another seeks federal funding to expand the professional workforce in the field of mental health and improve telehealth access.
“Communities across the country are struggling with the same challenges,” Woodward summarized in a statement about the conference.
The 90th annual meeting involving mayors of cities with populations of 30,000 or more was recently earlier this month in Reno, Nevada. A major focus of the group was creation of a new Task Force on Mental Health and Wellbeing.
Woodward has already established a Mental Health Taskforce in Spokane, as well as a work group to address a spike in violent crimes.
“Spokane has an opportunity to lead and work with other communities to make a real difference at home and with our neighbors nationwide,” stated Woodward.
She shared what community partners in Spokane and the federal Drug Enforcement Administration are doing with Operation Engage to reduce the high fentanyl overdose rates and drug trafficking in the region.
Woodward believes the 1,110% spike in fentanyl seizures in 2021 is tied to a significant uptick in gun violence.
“Spokane is a narcotics distribution hub for drugs coming over the border into Spokane because of our proximity to Canada but also Interstate 90, so that distribution can go east from here,” she said last spring. “It’s a problem, but it is fueling a lot of shootings that we’re experiencing right now.”
Spokane was chosen as last spring as one of 11 crisis areas in the nation for high fentanyl overdose rates. Records from the Washington Department of Health show more than a 186% increase in fentanyl-related overdoses in Spokane County between 2020 and 2021, and a 1,233% increase in overdoses in the three years prior.
Woodward told other mayors that, under Operation Engage, the DEA is partnering with local government, law enforcement, schools, faith-based organizations, social service providers and other community organizations to turn things around. Prevention and education will be a big part of that focus.
Woodward said the conference was a good opportunity for mayors to also share what their cities are doing to address high housing costs and low inventory, growing homeless populations and increased crime.
Among other actions, Woodward shared the Spokane is seeking to lease a 33,000-square-foot vacant warehouse on Trent Avenue for a homeless shelter. The facility is intended to provide wraparound services to help guests overcome mental health and addiction challenges, find jobs and housing and otherwise improve their lives.