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Close to Home: We can save a place of healing — if we have the will

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and don’t necessarily reflect The Press Democrat editorial board’s perspective. The opinion and news sections operate separately and independently of one another.

We were shocked, saddened and dismayed to hear of the plans to close Athena House.

Athena House is a residential treatment center for women with drug and alcohol use disorders. It has provided cutting edge, evidence-based treatment and deeply compassionate trauma informed support for 46 years. It is one of the most effective and unique treatment options available to women suffering from addiction in Sonoma County.

Leigh Vall-Spinosa
Leigh Vall-Spinosa
Brittany English
Brittany English
Erick Hill
Erick Hill

From its passionate leadership and staff to its one-of-a-kind alumnae network, the Athena House program has inspired countless women to achieve recovery and is responsible for fostering the growth of some of our communities most inspired and influential women.

As we have all been surviving the most significant life disruption of our generation, the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been another deadly epidemic ravaging our nation and community: a surge in the number of people dying from drug and alcohol use disorders.

In California an estimated 11,026 people die annually from deaths attributable to excessive alcohol use, 2,400 people die from opioid overdose, and 3,798 people die from overdoses of other substances.

Sonoma County has not been spared from the devastating amount of drug and alcohol addiction that has battered our country and has been worsened over these past two years by the isolation and stress of the pandemic. Last month, an article in The Press Democrat and Sonoma Index-Tribune told the shocking story of five opioid overdose deaths in only three hours — our deadliest day of the opioid epidemic yet.

Sonoma County is also one of the most expensive places to live, with rent and housing costs a real hardship for all but the most economically advantaged. There are 3,000 people experiencing homelessness in our county. Closing Athena House will only worsen the problem.

Athena House has served a vital role for hundreds of women, helping them heal and providing them with the tools to rebuild their futures. They provide low cost or free inpatient and outpatient drug and alcohol treatment as well supportive sober living housing after graduation. Horrifically, all of this is on the chopping block.

We need to advocate for more treatment opportunities for drug and alcohol use disorder in our community, not less. As it stands now, with Athena House open, women have to wait, sometimes for months, before they can access lifesaving treatment for addiction. Taking away local resources and driving these vulnerable women out of their community only decreases their chances for success.

We all know the link between homelessness and drug and alcohol addiction, we have all been heartbroken by the huge increase in unhoused people in our community, we have all been touched by the unnecessary deaths due to drug and alcohol addiction. Please, let us build our community as a place of healing and support. We have the resources, we just need the will.

You can help by providing input on Santa Rosa’s strategic plan to address homelessness at srcity.org/homelessplan, where you also can register for an online meeting at 5:30 p.m. Monday, or you can sign the Athena House petition at change.org.

Leigh Vall-Spinosa is a family physician, Brittany English is a family nurse practitioner and Erick Hill is a substance use disorder case manager at Santa Rosa Community Health.

You can send letters to the editor to letters@pressdemocrat.com.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and don’t necessarily reflect The Press Democrat editorial board’s perspective. The opinion and news sections operate separately and independently of one another.

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