Experts in the addiction treatment field hope that help is on the way from the state government to turn around what is considered a “failing grade” when it comes to addiction treatment in Oregon.
“I would give Oregon an ‘F’ overall because we have some of the highest rates of addiction and we have the lowest rates to access to treatment,” said Tony Vezina, executive director of 4th Dimension Recovery Center.
A bill to fund more addiction treatment centers, by offering peer support services for people in recovery from substance use disorders, is making its way through the Oregon Legislature.
That recovery has been working successfully for Adrian Burris. He remembers each date vividly on his sobering journey of sobriety after an addiction to heroin.
“I remember the arrest. I remember that date. It was October 9, 2015,” Burris told KATU. “I remember exactly what it was like. It was a point of shock, fear, but then also a point of surrender. I had been on this heroin addiction four-and-a-half years. I got to the point where I was fed up but I needed something to intervene in my life rather than me taking a step in the right direction.”
Burris’ heroin addiction hit a historic low and he had no help to pull him away from the substance use disorder.
“I didn’t have any friends that were not using. I didn’t have a recovery support system. I didn’t have the foundation,” he said.
The 28-year-old Burris walked into 4th Dimension Recovery Center in Northeast Portland to get the peer support post-treatment he needed. It’s one of the few peer-led support recovery centers in the Portland area, including the Alano Club and the Miracles Club.
“What Oregon has done, in the last 15-20 years, is walked away from treating this disease. We do very little prevention work anymore. We’ve put virtually all of our money into acute treatment. We’ll pay for someone to go to 28 days of residential treatment and then they walk out the door and there’s no support at all,” said Oregon Recovers executive director Mike Marshall. “They go back to the same house they’ve lived in. They don’t have a job because they lost their job from crimes associated with their using.”
Untreated substance abuse can be costly for the state of Oregon. According to a fact sheet from Oregon Recovers, untreated substance abuse costs Oregon $5.9 billion every year, including $4.15 billion in lost earnings, $813 million in health care, and $967 million in other costs such as violent, property, and consumption-related crimes.
“We provide them no support but expect them to stand on their own,” Marshall said. “You wouldn’t do that with somebody that goes into the emergency room with a heart attack, gets treated, then leaves and never sees a doctor or gets any medication or physical therapy or anything like that. We don’t do that with anything else, but we do that with addiction.”
Peer-led centers like 4th Dimension Recovery Center are a free option for recovering addicts, like Burris, to get through one of the biggest barriers to recovery, according to Vezina — people having to wait for the treatment and support services they need.
“If you compare that to other health care needs — if I had a heart attack, I wouldn’t have to wait to get the services I need. I would get them immediately. In addiction treatment, in recovery, you may have to wait a month to get into treatment,” Vezina explained. “Recovery community centers are open 365 days a year. People can come and go as they please. They can get any type of services they want.”
Legislators want more of that everyday care. House Bill 2627 is working its way through the Oregon state Legislature. The legislation is currently being debated and discussed in the House Joint Committee on Ways and Means.
“Our hope is that some of those recovery centers will go into rural Oregon. We know that rural Oregon is really suffering right now,” Vezina said. “They just don’t have any resources.”
If it becomes a law, it’s estimated that about $5 million would be distributed by the Oregon Health Authority to at least four community organizations, each in a different county. According to the latest amended bill, “each recovery community center must provide, at a minimum, culturally relevant peer mentor support, a 24-hour telephone support line to provide peer mentor support, in-person peer support services for 12 hours each day, and multiple forms of community-based recovery sessions.”
“There isn’t a community in Oregon that doesn’t need a peer-led recovery center,” Marshall said.
That support — talking to and learning from someone who experienced what you have — is making all the difference for Burris.
“Having somebody that I can identify with. Somebody that I know for a fact can relate and empathize and has been where I’ve been,” said Burris, who is also a peer lead recovery mentor at 4th Dimension Recovery Center. “If I didn’t see myself when I came through these doors, it probably wouldn’t have a great effect. This is the key piece when it comes to continuing your life.”