Resource center helps people struggling with substances pave road to recovery

Some of the services offered include behavioral health, drug or alcohol screening, and walk-in DUI and deferred prosecution assessments

PASCO, Wash. Resource and support centers for mental health, substance abuse, and addiction are more important than ever coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), drug overdose deaths hit a record high in 2020. More than 93,000 people died from overdosing, an almost 30% increase from the deaths projected in 2019.

Officials with Merit Resource Services, a nonprofit serving the Tri-Cities and Yakima areas for 40 years, said the need for help is “evident.”

“Every community has a problem with substance disorders and every community needs our help,” said Clinical Supervisor Andy Esparza. “When a person is wanting to get well, we need to get on that right away.”

Esparza said he’s been an employee with Merit Resource Services for about 18 years. In almost two decades, he’s helped serve hundreds of Washington residents.

“We had four offices in Yakima, Toppenish, Sunnyside, and Wapato. Now we have Ellensburg and Kennewick,” Esparza said. “Merit has shown over the years their ability to meet the needs of the communities in which we serve.”

An office in Pasco also recently opened up to continue “serving more of the Tri-Cities community.”

Some of the services offered include behavioral health, drug or alcohol screening, and walk-in DUI and deferred prosecution assessments.

When people walk in, Esparza said the goal is to help them find recovery.

“We find what kind of problem there is if there’s a problem, and how bad it is, then we look at what kind of treatment is needed,” Esparza said.

That’s where employees like Pattricia Pesina, a lead counselor, come in.

“Our goal is to try to help clients have longevity in recovery helping them gain tools,” Pesina said. “We’re in a field that we’re never going to work our way out of unfortunately and so the demand has been imminent forever.”

Pesina said having somebody “who’s there for them to help them” is crucial for helping someone struggling with substance abuse.

“It’s a lie that they are always going to be an addict and suffering,” Pesina said. “We help them get the tools and we are basically the vessel to point them in the right direction. They have to do the work.”

Another popular misconception is that “all drugs are the same.”

“This is an illness like anything else and we have to give them the tools just like any other illness how to get better,” Pesina said. “The misconception is that the substance is the problem. The problem is that there is something in your life that has led you to cope with it with substances, regardless of what it is.”

Pesina added that she always makes sure to inform people they are welcomed into a judgment-free zone.

“The service that we provide here in the Tri-Cities area is something that I’m proud of,” Pesina said. “The fact that I see people on a regular basis that have struggled with substance abuse in the past and today they have fruitful lives and managers, sustainable jobs, and you know what happened to them or what they went through is no longer a factor.”

Employees added that continuing services through coronavirus was tough although doable.

“We were finding new ways to provide the services and make the adjustments needed so we could continue opening our doors. Our doors never shut,” Esparza said. “We continued to provide services in telehealth ways basically through Zoom, through phone calls, so forth, so that we could continue meeting the needs of our patients but also the community needs.”

Pesina said the past year was “emotional.”

“Since the pandemic, I have lost more clients to death of substance use disorder than in my entire time in this field. And I have worked in this field in one capacity or another since 2007,” Pesina said. “In my entire life, I have not lost this many clients as I have in this last 15 months.”

Pesina noted that it only “drives me to do better.”

“To try to meet each client where they’re at. Isolation and the mental health aspect of this are huge,” Pesina said.

Esparza said the organization’s goal is “finding recovery for all.”

“We work with probation, we work with lawyers, we work with doctors. There is such a thing as getting healthy and working at getting a better life,” Esparza said.

Merit Resource Services offers help in both English and Spanish.

Officials are hosting a grand opening for the Pasco location on August 6th from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., complete with facility tours and a BBQ.

The address is 1906 N. 20th Ave, Pasco, WA 99301.

For more information, click here.

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