Hooper Detox Celebrates Changing Lives

From The Oregonian, November 14, 1996

You can count Barb Sander among the tame and typical who have passed through the Hooper Detox Center.

Tame because Sander who was treated for alcohol and drugs when she frequented Hooper in the early through mid-1980s, is a contrast to the sometimes more volatile heroin addicts now treated at the center on Portland’s eastside.

Typical because Sander, with 11-plus years of clean and sober living, is a Hooper success story.

Ed Blackburn, director of Hooper since 1992, says the center’s detoxification program completion rate is 80 percent for alcohol and cocaine addicts and 65 percent for heroin addicts. He says that’s a higher success rate than similar programs elsewhere.

Sander doesn’t doubt it.

“For me, personally,” she said, “I think Hooper played an integral part. Hooper was able to kind of steer me.”

And thousands more.

Tens of thousands more, Blackburn says.

Such successes are no trivial matter at Hooper, which operates an alcohol and drug detoxification program at 20 N.E. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.

So it’s no wonder Hooper detox, officially known as the David P. Hooper Memorial Detoxification Center, will be making a big deal of contributions to the community Tuesday with a 25th anniversary party.

Festivities will begin at 7 p.m. at Lloyd Center Exhibit Hall at Red Lion Hotel, 1000 N.E. Multnomah St.

For Blackburn, Hooper’s 25th birthday is a milestone worthy of pomp and circumstance yet Blackburn is aware the significance of the Hooper event might be lost on the so-what crowd — the many city residents who are unaware of the center and the services it provides.

“There are 100,000 individuals that have received services from the Hooper Center,” he says. “There are tens of thousands of people in the metro area who are affected by Hooper. They’ve either been in Hooper Center or they know someone — family or friends — who have been in Hooper. Those people won’t be saying ‘So what.'”

It’s with good reason that Blackburn comes across equal parts proud parent and protective older sibling when talking about Hooper. He knows there’s a fine line between past successes and current challenges.

All he has to do is refer to admissions records for Hooper’s Chiers, sobering, and medical detoxification programs. Chiers is the Central City Concern Hooper Inebriate Emergency Response Service.

The figures show Hooper has been receiving about 9,000 individuals yearly since 1993. At this rate, Blackburn says glumly, Hooper will admit in the next 10 years as many people — 100,000 — received in its first 25 years.

He says Hooper’s international and national reputation for helping people partly accounts for the high numbers. That’s good news for an organization that relies on word-of-mouth instead of advertising.

Blackburn says Hooper is visited regularly by people specializing in alcohol and drug treatment and government officials from countries in Africa and the Middle East, as well as Canada and Russia.

Among the visitors is Patrick Vanzo, division manager for Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services for Seattle-King County Department of Public Health.

He said the agency is planning to build a sobering center north of downtown Seattle that is modeled after Hooper.

“They were able to put an affective chemical and medical intervention program in place for minimal cost,” Vanzo said of Hooper.

“I realized we needed to do something very, very similar to what Portland has done if we’re going to make inroads into the chronic public inebriate population. We knew we had to get a service very much like Hooper on line here in Seattle. They are a national model.”

Yet, Blackburn is well aware reputation alone isn’t fueling Hooper’s admissions’ increases. He knows the higher numbers also are the result of a dramatic rise in heroin use over the past five years.

Blackburn says about 60 percent of detoxification program admissions this year — 1,022 — are heroin addicts. That’s a 260 percent increase over five years up from the 284 heroin clients admitted in 1992.

He says most clients are 18- to 25-years-old, and probably started using heroin six months to three years before deciding to seek treatment.

“This epidemic didn’t start in 1992,” Blackburn says.

He says about 30 percent of heroin clients are women, for which there are only 18 beds in the voluntary detoxification program.

“We’re turning women away,” Blackburn says.

He says Hooper turns away about 15 people a day. “That was not the case three years ago.”

The explosion in heroin addictions has impacted Hooper greatly’ he says, amounting to an additional per year load of 738 clients, 19,000 blood pressure tests, 15,000 meals and 12,000 medications.

“So logistically, it just comes at us,” Blackburn says. “They also prevent new challenges for us in terms of managing and intervening the withdrawal of the disease.”

Because heroin is an illegal drug, simply obtaining it means breaking the law. Therefore, Blackburn says, clients are “more criminally involved” than those suffering from alcohol

He says combating the heroin tide has required Hooper to retrain staff and search for new medical approaches.

Still, not everyone is toasting Hooper Center or cheering Chiers. It is the program that puts a van on the streets of Portland to cruise the city and pick up people who are passed out on the streets because of drinking or drugs, or who are too drunk or drugged to care for themselves.

Nor are they thrilled about the sobering station, a 4,000 square-foot space on the first floor of Hooper Center where people are taken until the effects of drinking or drugs wears off. It has large and small common space and individual concrete-walled holding cells.

The word on the street within some circles of homeless people is that the tactics employed by the Chiers van and workers at the sobering station approach brutality.

Blackburn says that’s because people picked up by the Chiers van — an average of 3,000 a year — and taken to Hooper’s sobering station often “resent having their inebriation process interrupted.”

But the sobering station isn’t a jail, Blackburn emphasizes, saying its purpose is to provide a safe place for people until the effects of their drinking and drugs wear off.

“The sobering station has saved a lot of lives,” Blackburn says.

Thus, he makes no apologies about the sobering station being a “bare-bones, concrete-area;” after all, the people taken there often are a drunken mess and sick.

Blackburn says people who are combative when they arrive at the sobering station are placed in a holding cell to calm down.

The people who run the sobering station aren’t equipped with weapons. Rather, Blackburn says, they rely on training that has taught them to calm unruly clients by talking to them. However, should that approach prove futile, sobering station staff is trained in applying “non-aggressive” physical restraint holds as a last resort.

Their work impresses Chuck Currie, coordinator of Burnside Advocates Group, an advocacy organization for homeless people.

“I think Chiers is particularly a good program,” he said. “I’ve seen them treat homeless people with nothing but respect.”

Portland Police Bureau Sgt. Karl McDade, who worked downtown for five of his 18 years on the street, said the people picked up by Chiers lessen the load for police.

“Those would have been people we would have had to pick up and take there,” he said, referring to the sobering station. “We call them oftentimes to assists.”

McDade knows the nightly challenges awaiting Chiers, having driven the van as a volunteer for a year.

“Basically, the Chiers people are the only friends these alcoholics have,” he said. “And it’s somewhat dangerous. They get assaulted by people. They’re waking up someone and they’ll get up swinging. That’s not unusual. It’s a tough job.”

During their stay, Blackburn says, clients are monitored for seizures and withdrawal symptoms and their intoxication level and medical problems are evaluated People are kept warm — the temper temperature is about 74 degrees — and fed soup.

The law allows the sobering station to keep people up to 48 hours, though Blackburn says most are released within five hours.

“People on the outside often look at these people as less than human,” he adds.

“We don’t. We look at them as prisoner of a disease. And we know what kind of behavior that can produce. Some of those people get sober, and when they get sober, they often come back and thank us for saving their lives.”