Breaking the Stigma: Substance Use Disorders

Local recovery groups share resources for National Recovery Month


Katherine Camarata

The Kittitas County Recovery Community Organization, 211 W 3rd Avenue.

Katherine Camarata, Lead Editor

Substance use disorders (SUD) exist everywhere, affecting 20.4 million people in the U.S. in the past year according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual-5, when recurring use of alcohol or drugs causes health concerns, disabilities or lack of function in daily life, it constitutes a SUD. 

The diagnosis is “based on evidence of impaired control, social impairment, risky use and pharmacological criteria.”

Overdose has heavily impacted this community, with 6 people passing away from overdose in Kittitas County in the first 9 months of 2021, according to Kittitas Valley Healthcare’s 2022 report (See “Local first responders and police work to combat fentanyl overdoses“).

In light of this, the local recovery community will be holding events to honor National Recovery Month in September (see events listed below).

The recovery community in Ellensburg includes many groups that collaborate to help residents and employees alike find hope through their substance use, such as Merit Resource Services, the Kittitas County Recovery Community Organization (KCRCO) and on campus resources through the Wellness Center or Student Counseling Services.

The Wellness Center upstairs in SURC 256. (Katherine Camarata)

Support on campus

According to Doug Fulp, Assistant Director at the Kittitas County Health Network (KCHN) and CWU alumni, substance use is normalized on campus in a way that overlooks its severity.

“I was a residence halls coordinator working with a lot of freshmen and substance use is always a thing, especially for college students,” Fulp said. “All too often people will say, it’s just their college years so they’re going to try it and everyone drinks.”

Fulp said this is not true as evidenced by the many people who choose not to use substances. He said there are some college students who already went through SUD in high school and need care coming into a community like a college campus. 

“They’ve done the steps they need to to be in recovery, but now they’re in this community that really normalizes use on a regular basis, so how can we support those students in their recovery and be respectful of their stories,” Fulp said.

Fulp works at Kittitas County Health Network, where they offer a care coordination program that works one-on-one with people who don’t fit other niche groups or qualify for other federal or state programs. He said their role is to identify “emerging issues, what might be some underlying issues that are going on and then to refer out to our partner organizations.”

According to Fulp, a highlight of his career has been helping create a recovery community at CWU. 

“It was a collaboration between the Wellness Center, and the Student Health Center and the Student Counseling Center…that came out of the need,” Fulp said.

Elizabeth Patti, Coordinator of Substance Misuse Prevention and Collegiate Recovery Support, said the Wellness Center and Student Counseling Services offer individual meetings for students to talk about goals and what support they need with their disorders. 

The Wellness Center also offers group meetings for SUD, one on the Ellensburg campus and one virtual meeting so students from all campuses and schedules can participate. Students can email [email protected] to get involved.

“Some students are just choosing to cut back on use or gain some sort of control over their use, and then some students are completely substance abstinent or sober,” Patti said. “It’s all about listening to the students about what they need.”

Patti mentioned a quote by writer Johann Hari where he said: “The opposite of addiction is connection,” and she said she sees this ring true in her work.

“It’s all about finding your support system that you feel is best for you,” Patti said. “Some people can’t include their family in their recovery journey and that’s hard, so we try to figure out how to best help a student find that connection on campus.”

Patti said the most impactful part of her work is seeing students find strength through connection, and she recommended students join social clubs on campus. 

“Students find a lot of power with a healthy balanced lifestyle,” Patti said. “That may be exercise or sports, for some students that may be finding a hobby or interest…it comes down to self care, how are you able to manage your triggers or cravings while they arise.”

Patti said it’s important to match students up with support they personally identify with, whether that is a cultural or religious group or something else.

“You don’t have to struggle alone,” Patti said. “You can find ways to bring power to your life if you so choose to. We have lots of areas on campus that can best support you.”

Patti said their services may involve referring students to other groups in town like Merit Resource Services and the KCRCO.

Merit Resource Services office, 200 E 3rd Avenue. (Katherine Camarata)

Resources available downtown

Brandi Amundson, Certified Peer Counselor and Program Manager for the KCRCO, said a highlight of her work is being a positive influence and assisting those with SUD when they’re doing great in recovery or when they’re at a low point and need someone to listen. She said she enjoys providing resources for loved ones of those with SUD.

“I’m a person in long term recovery,” Amundson said. “I’ve been in recovery for 20 years this last February. I have found great excitement in my life… bringing programs to the community here that can be beneficial.”

Amundson said recovery looks different for everybody. Some are in long-term recovery like her, and some are “recovery-” or “sober-” curious.

Amundson refers to people who are actively using substances or wonder what recovery looks like outside of religious programs and 12-step programs as “recovery-” or “sober-curious.”

“They’ll come to events and come to lectures or keep an eye on our updates,” Amundson said. “Sometimes that can lead them to starting their own recovery, or maybe they’re just not ready but they know that we’re here.” 

Amundson said feeling “like you’re supported and not judged” and feeling “humanized” were critical to her own recovery. 

According to Program Manager and Clinical Supervisor at Merit Resource Services Melissa Denner, this community impacted her drastically.

“The recovery community basically saved my life and gave me a life worth living,” Denner said. “It provided a life for my children in which that cycle of addiction and mental illness and dysfunction was broken. Professionally and personally, I’ve seen hundreds of people be rescued from a life of addiction, from jails and death and trauma and despair.”

Denner said Merit is an outpatient SUD treatment facility that offers a 12-step based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy outpatient treatment, as well as walk-in assessments and outpatient programs that vary based on individual needs.

Denner’s work includes starting a Recovery Navigator program at Merit, which offers state-funded peer-to-peer support for those with SUD from peer support counselors who have lived experience with addiction and being in remission according to Denner.

Denner said the Recovery Navigator program will be available to any community members beyond just those being treated by Merit. 

“We are helping people get stable housing, find employment, learn communication skills, have that peer-to-peer support, have someone to talk to about challenges in their life,” Denner said. Denner said the social service system can be hard to navigate for people battling mental illness and SUD. Peers can go to doctor’s appointments or meetings with those who sign up, help them talk to professors or role play conversations with them. 

Anybody can get involved with the Recovery Navigator program by visiting or calling the Merit office or inquiring about it with the Wellness Center, Student Health Services or Student Counseling Services.

Denner said she is drawn to recovery service because of who she is spiritually and because of the connection it brings her. 

“It took some years for me to do my own work in recovery and get healthy myself so that I could better serve people,” Denner said. “I feel very passionate because these are my people, these are the people that I love.”

Megan Clausen, a CWU alumna and administrative assistant for the KCRCO, said she started working there because of her family life.

“My dad is in recovery, six years sober,” Clausen said. “Involving the family and educating the family is one of the main things that can help the individual stay sober, so I went to weekly meetings with other kids whose parents had SUD, then I went to classes that taught me about the disease and I fell in love with it.”

Clausen said she has learned a lot about barriers within the recovery community and ways to make recovery more accessible.  

Clausen said the barriers she most often sees for those with SUD are difficulties receiving housing assistance and difficulties finding employment.

“We just hosted an employment summit which housed the prosecutor in town, people from the jail, and other employers in the community,” Clausen said. “We provided lunch and taught them about why it’s so important to employ people in recovery, because they’re extremely reliable and dependable people.”

Clausen said people in recovery might have issues with scheduling because they attend court and meetings that would require flexible work hours.

“We discussed some of those things and let employers know if they give them flexible hours, they will provide you good work,” Clausen said. “We are advocates for our peers who come in.”

Clausen said the KCRCO can connect community members with care providers and help them get accepted into treatment. 

Various approaches to recovery

The KCRCO offers free recreational activities including yoga, crochet, a book club, an embroidery club and art recovery classes. 

“They’re open to anybody in recovery or recovery-curious or a friend of somebody in recovery,” Clausen said.

Some with SUD take a religious or faith-based approach to recovery as seen in programs like Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous.

Others separate religion from recovery, and some may even separate the need to focus directly on recovery from the recovery process.

According to Amundson, focusing on recovery all the time can be overwhelming and the recreational activities offered through the KCRCO are one way to participate without talking directly about it.

“If you want to come and knit a hat and not talk about your recovery at all, you’re still doing that in a safe environment with other people in recovery,” Amundson said. 

Denner said she hopes people with SUD or who have loved ones with SUD will attend upcoming events for National Recovery Month, including a free picnic with games, prizes and live music at Alder St. Park on Sept. 24, as well as a panel speaking about SUD at Hal Holmes Center on Sept. 27.

“There is hope,” Denner said. “Reach out… There truly is a thriving recovery community in Kittitas County.”


Resources for Support:

Wellness Center: 509.963.3213

Merit Resource Services: 509.925.9821

Kittitas County Recovery Community Organization: 509.968.5224 

Kittitas County Health Network: 509.933.7544

Upcoming Recovery Events:

Sept 15: Kids Connect in the Park 6 p.m.

Sept. 17: Run for Recovery 5k 9-2 p.m. & Art of Recovery 10 a.m.

Sept. 20: Crochet with Purpose 5:30 p.m.

Sept. 22: KCRCO Book Club 6 p.m.

Sept. 24: Recovery Month Picnic 12 – 6 p.m. @ Alder St. Park

Sept. 27: Substance Use Panel/Event 5-8 p.m. @ Hal Holmes

Sept. 30: 509teens Night Out 6 p.m.

Meeting Locations in Kittitas County: