Oregon Partnership Answering State’s Crisis Calls at Record Rate

June 26, 2009

Calls to our statewide crisis lines from distraught Oregonians just keep on coming – and in record numbers as a result of the economic downturn that has hit our state especially hard.

The other night, one of our volunteers at Oregon Partnership received a phone call from a police officer downstate, thanking us for alerting them about a man who was about to kill himself.  With our help, the man was located and taken to the hospital.

Another caller to our crisis lines who had recently lost his job, his health insurance, his home – and estranged from his family – called in a suicidal state.  One of our 80 volunteers who take calls on the crisis lines convinced him to take no action while we researched financial aid and assistance for him.  Several days later, he too called to thank us.

Such examples of success stories happen on practically a daily basis here at Oregon Partnership, a statewide non-profit organization.  For the past 16 years, we have run the state’s 24-7 crisis lines with a handful of staff members trained in crisis counseling and suicide intervention.  These professionals are joined by an incredibly dedicated group of volunteers who have undergone 50 hours of training.

We operate Oregon’s only nationally-certified suicide prevention line, the statewide alcohol and drug HelpLine, a YouthLine, and a Spanish language crisis line, Linea de Ayuda.

Since January of 2008, call volume on the statewide crisis and suicide prevention lines has risen by 71%.  Just this past Tuesday, we logged 95 calls, a new daily record. 

In May alone, we responded to 1,609 suicide calls.  That’s also a record that we never thought we’d see.

There is no question that the economic crisis and the state’s high unemployment rate are largely to blame.  Last fall when the economy started stumbling, we witnessed a dramatic influx of calls.

But we are also receiving substantially more calls from veterans and returning soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan. Many of these men and women would rather seek help from folks who are not part of the military or Veterans Administration, fearing that it would become a part of their military record. So they call us.

While those seeking help find out numbers in a variety of ways, our budget has never included extensive advertising.  We have an ad in the Yellow Pages and of course, you can find our number online.

But as the need for the crisis lines has grown, our funding has decreased.  We are receiving fewer dollars from the state, private donors and foundations.

We are asking for $650,000 from the state for the next biennium.  The funding would go toward professional staff, extensive training of volunteers, phone banks, and equipment.  Compared to other 24-7 crisis lines around the country, this is just a portion of their operating budgets.

We run a highly efficient and economical operation.  And now more than ever, we are needed.  Unfortunately, more Oregonians than ever are in crisis and need somewhere to turn.

We know from experience that if our callers had no other option than the crisis lines, the results would be of tragic proportions – more deaths and ruined lives, more visits to emergency rooms, more crime, and more expense to Oregon tax payers.

HelpLine: 1-800-923-HELP
LifeLine: 1-800-SUICIDE and 1-800-273-TALK
YouthLine: 1-877-553-TEEN
Linea de Ayuda: 1-877-515-7848

Leslie Storm
Crisis Lines Director


Oregonian Editorial Supports Oregon Partnership

June 15, 2009

Oregonian ran this editorial in its Sunday edition…

 When there’s no one else to talk to, troubled people talk to the volunteers and staffers answering the phones at the Oregon Partnership’s crisis lines. And this year, as the economy has collapsed, they’re calling in greater numbers than ever.

People contemplating killing themselves. Kids dealing with the shame of being abused. Adults dealing with vulnerable parents, or with their children who are taking drugs. People who have no job, no health insurance and little money, but who are desperate for therapy, medication or just a little encouragement.

They are all around us. They are young, old, male, female, military veterans and working mothers. And from the numbers compiled by the Oregon Partnership, the nonprofit organization that operates the lines, they are dialing in at more than twice the rate they did last year. Layoffs, furloughs and salary cuts have put more households in crisis — to the point at which desperation drives a person to call an anonymous person at the other end of a crisis line.

Further, the crises have become more severe. In a typical month last year, the crisis line responders at Oregon Partnership might have had only a couple of “rescues” — cases in which they stayed on the line with callers after summoning emergency help. Last month, there were 19. One staffer had two in one day this week.

Yet even this last line of defense against despair is struggling to stay alive. The biggest piece of the nonprofit’s budget is money granted by the state, and it is very much in jeopardy this year.

The governor’s budget included $650,000 for the Oregon Partnership’s crisis line services for the next biennium, but that amount isn’t in the budgets under consideration in Salem. Without it, says Oregon Partnership president Judy Cushing, “I don’t know how we’ll continue. That’s not a threat: I just don’t know how we’ll continue.”

If there is a heart pulsing behind the political standoffs and the dreadful budget-cutting the Legislature has undertaken this session, there will be a little money allocated to the Oregon Partnership to keep its crisis lines operating for another two years. Without it, the partnership won’t be able to keep up with the rising demand for its services.

As it is, the nonprofit leans heavily on its corps of volunteers — about 70 people who donate four or more hours a week to answer the phones. The volunteers and just six staffers, two of them full time, keep the crisis lines running 24 hours a day, seven days a week. In many parts of the state, it is the only crisis line that operates around the clock. To keep up with demand, the nonprofit would like to add another few phone lines and a staffer or two.

The volunteers, too, come from many walks of life. One is Lon Getlin, the CEO of a Portland-based consumer products company. He serves on the board, and he also answers when the crisis line rings. “We get the most incredible telephone calls you can possibly imagine,” he said. He took one from a young teenager who was so intimidated by the idea of returning to school after a summer in which her mother committed suicide that she, too, was thinking of killing herself.

“She was emotional and steady, which is a very scary combination,” Getlin remembered. But after talking to Getlin for a time, and then having follow-up phone calls from crisis line staffers, the girl decided to return to school. The last time volunteers talked to her, she was doing much better.

The story of that teenage girl could have been just one more tragedy in a state that’s seen some horrific ones lately — children thrown from a bridge, others shot by their father and an unborn infant cut from his mother’s womb. If only the killers in those cases had called the crisis line, as the young teenager had the courage to do, perhaps the innocent wouldn’t have died.

Such outcomes are unknowable, but one thing is predictable: Let the crisis line go dark, and there will surely be more tragedies.


The Oregon Partnership operates four crisis lines that have seen increased traffic without any marketing, except for ads in the Yellow Pages.

HelpLine, a general crisis line for adults: 1-800-923-HELP

LifeLine, a board-certified suicide crisis line: 1-800-SUICIDE and 1-800-273-TALK

YouthLine, a part-time crisis line staffed by teenagers: 1-877-553-TEEN

Linea de Ayuda, a part-time, Spanish-language crisis line: 1-877-515-7848

Calls are up sharply this year. During the first four months of 2008, the crisis lines logged 2,299 calls. During the first four months this year, they received 5,849, a 154 percent increase.

New Drug Czar Speaks OP Language

June 11, 2009

Sounds as if the country’s new drug czar is in step with drug prevention efforts that Oregon Partnership advocates.  This, from Join Together newsletter:

Drug legalization “is not a part of the president’s vocabulary under any circumstances and it’s not a part of mine,” said Obama administration drug czar Gil Kerlikowske in a recent interview, Reuters reported June 5.

However, Kerlikowske said the federal government should spend less time and money pursuing nonviolent drug offenders (“We need to devote those finite resources toward those people who are the most dangerous to the community,” he said) and invest more in demand reduction, especially addiction treatment for prisoners.

“It’s clear that if they go to prison and they have a drug problem and you don’t treat it and they return … to the same neighborhood from whence they came that you are going to have the same problem,” Kerlikowske said in an interview with Reuters. “Quite frankly people in neighborhoods, police officers, et cetera, are tired of recycling the problem. Let’s try and fix it.”

Kerlikowske repeated his call for ending use of the term ‘war on drugs’ and said he will seek a more balanced approach to addressing the nation’s drug problem.

Presenting at MidSOUTH Summer School

June 8, 2009

“Media Messaging: Is it Really About the Message” and “Tackling Meth: Help in Your Community….I’ll be presenting those sessions tomorrow  at the MidSouth Summer School on Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Problems at the University of Arkansas in Little Rock.

That’s Little Rock, Arkansas, one of the few states where I haven’t touched down.

And I’ll tell them Oregon’s story in the meth battle.  There are some relatively new developments on the meth prevention front – not the least of which is the virtual disappearance of deadly meth labs in Oregon.  And now other states are taking note and action.

What can local drug prevention coalitions and groups do to help their cause via the media – old and new?  A lot, of course…It’s always a topic that draws much interest.

– Pete Schulberg

Showdown Looming for Long Overdue Boost in Oregon Beer Tax

June 5, 2009

For the first time in 32 years, the Oregon Legislature appears serious about the beer tax.

The Oregon beer tax – less than a penny a glass – is effectively the lowest in the country and hasn’t been raised in more than three decades.

As the current session of the Oregon Legislature winds down, House Bill 2461 would raise the state’s beer excise tax from less than eight-tenths of a penny per glass to fifteen cents per glass.   At this late date, the bill is still alive and may be gaining support from legislators interested in attacking the state’s $4-billion budget deficit.

It is projected the tax increase would raise about $165 million per year. Oregonians currently pay more than $3 billion a year for alcohol-related crime, violence, lost productivity, and health costs.

“Most Oregonians feel it is realistic and efficient to fund prevention and treatment services with revenues from the sale of the product that creates the problem,” says Judy Cushing, President/CEO of Oregon Partnership.

“More than 90 percent of the tax revenues will come from the major out-of-state producers who have been getting what amounts to a free ride for their product sold in Oregon.”

Cushing has also termed “preposterous” the notion that the Oregon craft brew industry will be losing jobs and that beer prices will skyrocket.

Surveys have consistently shown that Oregonians would support a beer tax increase to pay for prevention and recovery programs.

The latest survey conducted this past February by Moore Information, Inc. found that 61 percent of Oregonians favor increasing the beer tax, while 65 percent oppose making significant cuts to substance abuse and treatment programs, even in light of the state’s budget woes.

“Beer’s Fair Share,” a coalition of supporters joining Oregon Partnership, has been educating legislators about the benefits of a beer tax increase.

Alcohol Sales to Minors Show Drop

June 1, 2009

 The Oregon Liquor Control Commission performed alcohol sales checks to minors in Portland, Gresham and Troutdale on May 19 and 22, and the results were encouraging.

The compliance rate averaged 90 percent for both operations, which is well above the 2008 statewide average of 78 percent. 

“Binge drinking before turning 21 can cause damage to a teen’s still developing brain,” said Carl Lewis, Regional Enforcement Manager.  “Oregon’s store clerks and servers play a critical role in keeping alcohol out of minors’ hands.”

• Eastern Multnomah County (Portland, Gresham, Troutdale) had an 86 percent compliance rate on May 19 with 26 out of 30 businesses passing.  The compliance check was performed by OLCC and Gresham Police Department.
• Portland had a 94 percent compliance rate on May 22 with 15 out of 16 businesses passing.  OLCC performed the minor sales check.

The commission performs the minor sales checks in an effort to reduce drinking by minors, which is a serious problem throughout the state.  The OLCC tests about 1,800 licensed liquor businesses each year.  Licensees or their employees can be held liable for alcohol-related damages and injuries if they serve or sell alcohol to a minor.

Under Oregon law, businesses in cities with a population of 20,000 or more have an equal chance of being randomly selected for a minor decoy compliance check.  A business can also be selected for a compliance check if there is a documented complaint of sales to minors.  Businesses in cities with a population under 20,000 and unincorporated areas in counties are not subject to these selection requirements. 

The OLCC offers a free training course on how to check ID’s.  Participants learn how to identify false identification and the laws regarding minors and alcohol.  Additional training opportunities are available including classes for store clerks and service permit holders.  Interested persons can call the local OLCC office to schedule a training session.

During the sales checks, a minor volunteer attempts to purchase alcohol from a licensed business to see if staff are checking ID’s correctly and refusing to sell alcohol to anyone under 21.  Commission inspectors or other law enforcement officers supervise the minor volunteers.  The volunteers carry their own legal ID and do not disguise their age or lie to encourage the sale of alcohol.