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News / Health / Health Wire

Gov. Inslee talks fentanyl, clean energy in Walla Walla

By Loryn Kykendall, Walla Walla Union-Bulletin
Published: February 19, 2024, 10:45am

WALLA WALLA —In Walla Walla, fentanyl overdoses have become run-of-the-mill calls for first responders, and they happen almost every day.

The fentanyl crisis, and the fight against it, was what local first responders shared with Gov. Jay Inslee during his visit to Walla Walla on Friday, Feb. 16. Inslee said the fentanyl crisis is currently one of his top priorities and he’s hoping to see more investments in mental health and preventative treatment.

“I’m hoping to make Narcan (overdose reversal drug) as universally available as water in the state of Washington,” Inslee said. “We also hope we can make it so first responders can get people on medically-assisted treatment right away.”

Walla Walla firefighter Hayden Linklater said it’s becoming increasingly difficult to help those who are addicted.

“It’s gotten to the point these days where if we can give them Narcan, people will wake up, have their wits about them, and then refuse us taking them to the hospital,” Linklater said. “It’s almost become a low-risk, low-level call … we just wake them up and they continue on with their day.”

Paramedic Cody Maine said fentanyl pills currently cost about 25 cents each in Portland, and about $1 here in Walla Walla. He and the rest of the community paramedic program have partnered with the Department of Health to obtain and distribute as much Narcan and Naloxone as they can throughout the community. They’ve also taught Narcan classes at the YWCA. But Maine said community needs are quickly outweighing help that is available.

“The needs of our community continue to outpace our capacity,” he said. “We used to have two emergency departments here in our community. We have one now.”

Maine, who trained in Portland and Las Vegas, said what’s occurring in Walla Walla right now is reminiscent of what he saw at large inner-city trauma centers.

In response to the fentanyl issue, which is being seen across the state and nation, Inslee said he is proposing grants for local communities to hire more police officers, plans to hire about 80 new state troopers, and wants to increase funding for drug task force groups.

“There’s 12 or 14 counties that basically don’t have a treatment facility at all,” Inslee said. “So that’s one of the holes we’ve got to plug. Part of that is getting personnel too — there’s staffing issues; we’ve got to train people. All of this involves dollars, but we think it’s a worthwhile investment, so I’m proposing about $40 million to make these investments.”

Electric vehicles

Inslee also met with Valley Transit and Women of Wisdom Tri-Cities, a nonprofit focused on environmental, climate and economic issues. Women of Wisdom created the WOW CarShare program, which brings zero-emission electric vehicles and charging stations to disadvantaged communities.

WOW CarShare users only pay for the amount of time they use the vehicle, whether it’s five minutes or a whole day. The vehicles do not use keys but instead an app on the user’s phone. If a user does not have a phone, Women of Wisdom will provide one. If they don’t have insurance, they’ll be added to the organization’s insurance.

Valley Transit General Manager Angie Peters said Valley Transit and Women of Wisdom have partnered to bring this service to the Valley as it gets more and more difficult to serve areas in Walla Walla and College Place. The groups plan to use a Zero-emissions Access Program grant from the state Department of Transportation to bring WOW CarShare to the Valley.

“We wanted to just make sure that everybody has a way to get around,” Peters said. “And the two sites that are going in — One is currently right on a main line of transit, so if someone doesn’t have a car but they want to use the car share, they can easily get to the site.”

She said another five charging sites will be installed over time in areas that don’t get fixed-route coverage.

Clean energy projects

During Inslee’s last stop in Walla Walla, he heard from Port of Walla Walla officials about proposed projects in clean energy at Wallula Gap Business Park.

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Wallula Gap Business Park was one of only six rural industrial sites selected to receive a portion of a $2.5 million grant from the Department of Commerce last year. Inslee said they discussed several companies the Port is considering partnering with, including a hydrogen production company and a biofuel company.

“There is a cluster of innovation happening here that’s extremely exciting and bears well for the whole state of Washington,” Inslee said. “To have another large, high-tech manufacturing (operation) going on here at the Wallula Gap Business Park is exciting.”

He said not only would clean energy projects produce clean energy sources here in the Valley but would create jobs as well.

“These are not smokestack industries. They’re actually getting us off of smokestack industries,” Inslee said. “To have job creation at an environmentally friendly place that has a great workforce, it’s just a win-win.”