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News / Politics / Clark County Politics

3rd Congressional District candidate Leslie Lewallen says combating SW Washington’s opioid epidemic is a top priority at Camas town hall

Republican says securing southern border must be first step

By Dylan Jefferies, Columbian staff writer
Published: June 24, 2024, 5:08pm
2 Photos
Leslie Lewallen, a 3rd Congressional District candidate, held a town hall event Friday that resembled a support group for families who have lost loved ones to Southwest Washington&rsquo;s opioid epidemic.
Leslie Lewallen, a 3rd Congressional District candidate, held a town hall event Friday that resembled a support group for families who have lost loved ones to Southwest Washington’s opioid epidemic. (Dylan Jefferies/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

CAMAS — A town hall event hosted Friday by 3rd Congressional District candidate Leslie Lewallen resembled a support group for grieving families who have lost loved ones to Southwest Washington’s opioid epidemic.

The event, held at the Camas Community Center, began with local speakers who discussed how opioids have impacted their lives and communities. Later, a microphone was passed around the room, and some attendees spoke candidly and emotionally about loved ones who have overdosed or are suffering from addiction.

Many brought photos of their friends and family members who have died. They were displayed on a table at the back of the room.

“I’m tired of going to memorials,” said Roxanne Shelby of Camas, who lost her son to an opioid overdose. “I’m tired of saying goodbye to the ones I love.”

Lewallen declared that combating the opioid epidemic is one of her top priorities, and she laid out her plan to address it. Lewallen is a Camas city councilor and a former prosecutor.

“First and foremost, we need to secure the southern border,” she said. “Will it fix everything? No. But it will cut the head of the snake off.”

She added she supports building a wall along the Mexican border, supplying border patrol agents with needed resources and reinstating the Trump-era “Remain in Mexico” policy.

Her second priority is reversing “soft-on-crime” policies, she said.

“The defund the police movement didn’t just defund our law enforcement officers, it defunded our criminal court systems, as well,” she said. “We’ve got to get tough on crime again.”

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She pointed to the Oregon Bottle Bill as an example of a well-intended policy that “incentivizes drug use,” and she called for additional resources for people who are incarcerated and suffering from addiction.

“We need to make sure that if somebody’s incarcerated, that they get the help that they need,” she said.

Lastly, she said addiction treatment needs to be more accessible. She added she has been preparing legislation she would propose on her first day in Congress that would provide addiction treatment for anyone seeking it, even if they don’t have insurance.

“If somebody is asking for help, they need a 30-day grace period so their caregivers can at least have a tiny chance to get them the help that they need,” she said.

Multiple Camas Police Department officers were in attendance, and some of them spoke about their experiences working with people suffering from addiction. Many of them agreed police need more leeway to arrest and prosecute drug offenders.

“We’re all here because we’re hurt, we care and we want to do something,” said Don Chaney, a former Camas city councilor and retired Camas police chief. “The ability for these good, caring, well-meaning officers to enforce our laws — the Legislature took it out of their hands. And it wasn’t because they were mean-spirited. It was because they thought it was the right thing to do. Today, we know that was the wrong thing to do. As a matter of fact, it’s manifested itself into you all being here tonight in this town hall meeting.”

He implored attendees to “seek out candidates that will step up to embrace your concerns.”

“That’s the only way we’re going to make a change,” he concluded.

Lewallen said Chaney and Camas police gave her an inside look into the opioid epidemic’s impact on Camas shortly after she was elected to the Camas City Council in 2021.

“This was coming off of COVID where we wanted to defund the police, and our law enforcement officers were ridiculed, and people just were saying horrible things about them,” she said. “The shutdown and the policies that were put in place to protect us, harmed us. They were killing our children. They were killing our loved ones. We have to do something about it, and that is why I’m running for Congress in Washington state’s 3rd Congressional District.”

To learn more about Lewallen’s campaign, visit leslieforwashington.com.