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A woman to call in a crisis

by: SUBMITTED - Judy Cushing, second from right, is shown at the NAMI awards dinner at which she was honored. Joining her for the occasion were former state Sen. Avel Gordly, Sharon Smith and former U.S. Sen. Gordon Smith.It is awesome to consider the impact that Lines for Life has had on drug abuse and suicide prevention in Oregon.

That is why Judy Cushing of Lake Oswego was honored with the 2012 Gordon and Sharon Smith New Freedom Award by the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Oregon.

When the award was given at a dinner in Portland earlier this month, Cushing was able to briefly put aside her huge burden of work and take time to celebrate.

“I was so deeply moved and humbled to get this award,” Cushing said. “I know the Smiths and I’ve been so inspired by their courage.”

“NAMI Oregon has chosen very wisely,” said Gordon Smith, a former U.S. senator from Oregon. “Judy has been a courageous and eloquent leader in the effort to bring mental health’s subordinate status and suicide’s brutal toll out of the shadows.” by: SUBMITTED - JUDY CUSHING

Because Cushing founded Lines for Life 20 years ago, phone lines are open 24 hours a day for desperate people seeking courage, advice and support when they have lost all hope in trying to kick drug habits or are on the verge of ending their lives. Cushing was a pioneer in merging treatment, counseling and referrals for people in trouble. She created a wide-ranging crisis hotline with the capability of turning around a potential tragedy and leading a person to recovery and healing.

“There were a lot of similarities in public policies on this issue,” Cushing said. “But I thought we could save a lot of money and create a positive synergy with a new kind of program. We needed a large circle, not separate silos. We all should work together.”

When Cushing began her career as a drug prevention crusader in the 1970s, she was just a wife and mother who had absolutely no experience of the seamy side of substance abuse. Her eyes were opened wide when she discovered that bucolic southern Oregon was a hotbed of illegal activity and that LSD stickers were showing up at the grade school her children attended. Cushing went on to devote her life to preventing substance abuse and suicide, and in 1993 she helped start Lines for Life, of which she has been CEO for the past 15 years.

“We started very small,” Cushing said. “We had only a handful of volunteers and our budget was only $155,000. Now it’s $2.1 million.”

Over the next 20 years, the drug problem grew by leaps and bounds, but so did Lines for Life.

“We have received thousands and thousands and thousands of calls,” Cushing said. “On suicide calls alone we now receive 40,000 calls a year. The need for crisis and preventive education services have grown tremendously.”

A major factor in the success of Lines for Life is the ability to anticipate the next big drug problem.

“We could see the trends before the public realized what had happened,” she said. “The meth issue was a disaster that was happening right before our eyes. The same thing happened on prescription drug abuse. The calls on prescription drugs have overtaken the number of meth calls. As we see the trends we inform the public and policymakers and help them meet the issue.”

An incredible amount of human drama has flowed through the hotlines to Lines for Life counselors. Like the child hiding in the closet as his father went berserk and started beating his mother. The boy found a business card with the phone number for Lines for Life. In another case a man was standing on a bridge, intending to jump to his death. But he decided to make one last call for help. Lines for Life has been able to pull back many people from the edge.

When accepting the Smith award, Cushing passed out plenty of thanks — to the many law enforcement officers and mental health professionals she has worked with, her “fantastic” board of directors and her mentor, Gen. Barry McCaffrey.

She also thanked her best friend, who has been her husband of 47 years, Lake Oswego attorney Doug Cushing. “He has been with me every step of the way,” she said.

For more about the work of Cushing and Lines for Life, go to linesforlife.org.



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