Early efforts to treat drug abuse and dependency in Oregon have saved thousands of lives and millions of taxpayer dollars in the last decade. By investing in a range of addiction treatment services and increasing public access to those services through Medicaid, Oregon has become one of the best places in America for addiction treatment.
Portland — Oregon’s largest city — has a historical reputation for aiding the addicted and homeless. With the city’s numerous non-profit organizations, many in the aforementioned categories are offered free food, shelter, clothing, and assistance to get them into treatment. Portland also has an abundance of detox and drop-in centers, needle exchange programs, and less stigma surrounding addiction than most other US states. Oregon has been hit hard recently by prescription painkiller overdoses, but more and more people are receiving treatment and taking steps for recovery.
"We tend to come together to solve problems," said Karen Wheeler, addiction programs administrator for the Oregon Health Authority. "We want people to access addiction treatment because it will save money on the physical health side of things. People will be less likely to go to the ER or have an unwanted pregnancy, for instance."
National research shows that treatment reduces crime and costly medical expenses while boosting employment, meaning every dollar spent on treatment saves an average of $7. "There's absolutely solid, irrefutable evidence that there is a savings — always — in funding addiction treatment and prevention," said Wheeler.
Oregon’s philosophy regarding substance abuse is to act quickly and aggressively, before an individual has time to cause physical or emotional harm to themselves or others in the addiction process. "We look at addiction as a chronic, relapsing brain disease," said Therese Hutchinson of the Oregon Health Authority. "It is a physical health issue, and you treat it like a physical health issue.”
Oregon began covering addiction treatment in its Medicaid program (the state-and-federal health insurance program for the poor and disabled) in the mid-1990s, many years before prescription-drug abuse proliferated. Officials now estimate that 228,000 Oregonians abuse prescription drugs each year — the fourth-highest rate in the nation — but Oregon is handling the epidemic better than most states.
Kentucky, like Oregon, is a largely rural state with about 4 million people and a substantial prescription drug abuse problem. With a few exceptions, Kentucky offers no addiction treatment services in its Medicaid program and struggles with an overwhelmed treatment system. Oregon is admitting more than twice as many addicts for treatment as Kentucky — 48,833 compared with 21,474, according to the latest federal data from 2009. Oregonians are also much more likely to receive intensive treatment: 10 percent of treatment admissions were to long-term, residential facilities, compared with 1.1 percent in Kentucky.
Another advantage of the Oregonian health care system is the availability of programming that allows addicted parents to stay with their children in residential treatment programs. It also provides intensive outpatient treatment, case management, peer mentoring, and drug-free housing for parents and pregnant women. More than 1,800 children have been reunited with their parents by the program — leading to further savings in areas such as foster care and youth homeless services.
Officials and treatment professionals acknowledge that Oregon's treatment infrastructure isn't perfect. As in Kentucky and other states, many of Oregon's treatment facilities have waiting lists. Still, Oregon’s addiction support network is unrivaled in its range of services and total population served, and other states are beginning to include addiction services in public health initiatives rather than costly, private out-of-pocket programs.
By focusing on the people that need addiction treatment most — families, minorities, young people — Oregon is taking action and ending a costly cycle that takes hundreds of lives each day. If you or a loved one is facing addiction in Oregon, please browse local treatment centers and find the right one for you.
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