Tacoma-Pierce County headed to Boston for Mayors’ Institute on Opioids

Mayor Victoria Woodards delivered her State of the City Address at Lincoln High School, her alma mater, on April 11. Photo courtesy of City of Tacoma

Tacoma Mayor Victoria Woodards marked the occasion of her 100th day in office before a full house of friends, family and dignitaries on Wednesday, April 11, at Lincoln High School, her alma mater, for her first State of the City Address.

It was an evening full of pomp and circumstance and positive declarations that highlighted the successful achievements made by Tacoma over the past 100 days.

Woodards touted the creation of 1,300 new jobs so far in 2018 and her concerted effort on continuing to diversify the City’s economy to provide more living-wage jobs and maintain sustainable growth. Woodards said that in the coming several weeks she will spearhead a new economic advisory council to ensure the creation and retention of living-wage jobs. Woodards also stressed her priority policy to generate incentives that will spur affordable housing to support the 16.5 percent of seniors living in poverty in Tacoma, and other low-income families at risk of homelessness. The theme of the evening was “Our City, Our Success,” exemplifying Woodards’ approach to life and leadership. She closed the address by asking audience members: What will you do to help make Tacoma successful?

“I challenge all of you to harness the unparalleled power of your passion for Tacoma,” Woodards said.

One of the significant announcements that carried a lot of weight, and may have gone unnoticed in the moment because of its rose-colored delivery, was when Woodards mentioned the City’s participation in the City-County delegation headed to Boston in May for the National Mayors’ Institute on Opioids, hosted by the National League of Cities.

A press release issued by the City the day after Woodards’ address explained Tacoma’s participation further and shed more light on the significance of this partnership. The City of Tacoma will be part of a five-member delegation representing organizations in Tacoma and Pierce County. Joining the delegation are Conor McCarthy, at-large Tacoma City Councilmember, who, along with Pierce County Councilmember Derek Young, has been part of the County-City Opioid Task Force convened last year; Dr. Anthony L-T Chen, director of health at Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department; Patti Jackson-Kidder, chief of Pierce County Sheriff’s Department Corrections Bureau; and Jason Escareno, Young’s designee and senior human services legislative analyst.

The Tacoma-Pierce County delegation is one of six delegations selected nationwide by the National League of Cities, and the only delegation located west of the Mississippi. Tacoma-Pierce County’s participation underscores the gravity of the opioid crisis in the region. In 2016, the county experienced a rate of 10.8 opioid overdose deaths per 100,000, a figure that surpassed the statewide rate of 9.4. Research shows high school seniors in the county are some of the hardest hit by the crisis, indicating 5 percent in 2016 citing they used pain medication to get high. In that same year, 8 percent of high school seniors admitted to using someone else’s prescription.

Tacoma-Pierce County will join the cities of Knoxville, Tenn.; Madison, Wis.; Huntington, West Virginia; Manchester; New Hampshire; and New Bedford, Mass. The immersive three-day event taking place May 9-11 will be followed by 12 months of professional assistance tailored to each participating city’s needs.

Woodards and others in the delegation are hoping the outcome will help to enhance local efforts already underway.

“Tacoma Councilmember McCarthy and Pierce County Council Member Young have demonstrated great leadership on the County-City Task Force convened last year, and I hope the resources provided by the Mayor’s Institute on Opioids will support the good work they are doing with other leaders to address the harm caused by opioids in Tacoma and Pierce County,” said Woodards in a written statement.

Dr. Chen at the health department is encouraged by this opportunity to partner with other communities in the nation rattled by the opioid crisis.

“Public health interventions such as secure medicine return, access to treatment, and safe needle exchange support safe communities and save lives, but they are only the beginning,” he said. “We must work together to overcome this epidemic that is hurting our community.”

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