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DHS news release

March 3, 2005


This column appeared in The Oregonian on Feb. 21, 2005


Life stories show drug treatment works

By Sharron Kelley

From that first drink and cigarette in grade school, Patty Finch is able to vividly recount the escalation to years of what she describes as "dope sick" dependency and the miserable life that led to her methamphetamine addiction.


Today, this mother of two is a recovering alcohol- and drug-abuse worker in Multnomah County.
As legislators in Salem consider what to do about controlling state spending, they should be figuring out how to help get more Patty Finches into recovery while also conquering our state's growing meth epidemic.


This may surprise you but, in the past two years, the state's money-saving treatment and prevention capacity has actually shrunk: 5,000 fewer adults and adolescents received publicly funded treatment in 2003 than in 2002, a number expected to be matched this year. About 8,000 of Oregon's adult prison inmates need treatment. On our three state hospital campuses, 70 percent of patients were alcohol and drug abusers.


State researchers estimate that about 27,000 people who needed treatment in 2003 didn't receive it, or 8,000 more than in 2002.


If we want to live in meth-free neighborhoods and to see children raised in nurturing drug-free homes, we need to ask legislators to remember Patty Finch and others like her. Their life stories tell us: Treatment works.


It also pays. By even the most conservative estimates, a dollar invested in treatment returns $5 to $7 in savings growing out of less drug-related chronic unemployment, crime, child abuse, domestic violence, medical expenses and other costly social ills.


To get more people like Patty Finch into successful recovery, the Governor's Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse Programs supports the multi-pronged recommendations of the Governor's Methamphetamine Task Force, combining prevention, treatment, public safety and recovery services working together effectively to lick this epidemic.


For example, community coalitions such as No Meth Not in My Neighborhood bring together about 30 volunteers twice a month to identify problems and solutions to boost the work of police and treatment agencies in Marion and Polk counties.


Statewide, we should also be willing to make small sacrifices such as the governor's meth-related retail initiative to prevent cold medicines from being purchased in bulk to manufacture illegal drugs in neighborhood drug houses.


Because 70 percent of drug users are employed, businesses can benefit by promoting parity for drug treatment in health insurance plans.


Help is also available from the Oregon Partnership's toll-free lines: 1 (800) 923-HELP for adults and 1 (877) 553-TEEN for youth.


If meth were an infectious disease epidemic that was disabling adults and harming our children, we wouldn't think twice about investing heavily to protect our families, neighborhoods and communities.


We should be at least as vigorous in wiping out a methamphetamine epidemic that is leaving tragic consequences in its wake.


Become involved. Join a community coalition, get engaged with neighborhood prevention efforts, be a mentor, write a legislator.


People like Patty Finch know treatment works. "Even when I have my bad days," she says now, "they are nothing compared to what it was like when I was on the streets in my addiction."


Sharron Kelley, a former Multnomah County commissioner, submitted this guest opinion on behalf of the Governor's Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse Programs, which she chairs.