October 20, 2017

Hundreds gathered at the Sentinel Hotel last month to celebrate De Paul Treatment Center’s 18th-annual Freedom Awards luncheon. The ceremony and fundraiser brings together community members, businesses, non-profits and elected officials to celebrate recovery and raise awareness about addiction.

De Paul Treatment Center, the sponsor of the annual event, partners with the county to provide drug and alcohol treatment for Multnomah County residents. For more than 40 years, De Paul has helped more than 30,000 families in Multnomah County overcome addiction through its range of recovery programs. A third of those clients experience addiction to opiates.

Multnomah County Commissioner Sharon Meieran delivers keynote addressMeieran De Paul

Speaking from her experience as an emergency room doctor, Multnomah County Commissioner Sharon Meieran recounted how pharmaceutical companies and hospitals have contributed to the opioid epidemic in Multnomah County. Every year, she said, more than 100 residents die from opioid-related overdoses.

In response to the opioid epidemic, Multnomah County in August issued a $250 million lawsuit against drug manufacturers, distributors and providers for their role in creating a public health crisis. “The big pharmaceutical companies, actually, are those who are to blame for this epidemic,” she said.

Devarshi Bajpai, Medicaid Manager for Mental Health and Addiction Services Division, accepts award 

Following Meieran’s speech, Devarshi Bajpai, the county’s Medicaid Plan Manager, accepted the Advocacy Award. The honor celebrates those who help improve access to addiction treatment and build healthy communities in Oregon.

In his role at the county, Bajpai helps more than 100,000 residents enrolled in Oregon Health Plan residents access addiction services access mental health and addiction services. Two years ago, he worked to establish an outreach team that visits emergency rooms and helps connect people struggling with addiction to treatment services.

Bajpai said part of the reason he is such a strong advocate is that he has known the power of recovery. Bajpai has more than 24 years of recovery from addiction.Devarshi Bajpai at awards luncheon

Two years after getting sober, at the age of 19, Bajpai became a counselor for De Paul. He’s worked in the addictions field ever since, helping shape policy for hundreds of thousands of Oregonians. “De Paul has been a place where a lot of people have started their recovery, but it’s also been a place where a lot of us started their careers,” Bajpai said.

When he accepted the award, Bajpai urged people struggling with addiction to hold onto hope. Witnessing hope in others, he said, is part of what has sustained him through his career.

“I think hope is really precious these days,” Bajpai said. “And the work that De Paul does is becoming more and more important every single day.”