Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Breaking the cycle of drug addiction

If a community were a pond, then drug addiction would be a pebble big enough to cause ripples throughout, said Jim Gouveia, Benton County Drug Treatment Court program coordinator.

According to the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration, Oregon ranks No. 2 in the country for illegal drug use, and mid-valley communities are no exception.

“I can’t say the drug problem in Benton County has increased necessarily,” Gouveia said. “But we’re up there.”

Drug use isn’t an individual problem or even a family problem. It’s a community problem, said Jennifer Hogansen, a behavioral health specialist with the Corvallis Clinic.

“The effects on children and families, in particular, can be devastating,” Hogansen said.

The drug problem is a top priority for the criminal justice and social services systems, as well as educators, mental health experts and taxpayers.

Locally, a consistent approach of modifying drug users’ behavior to achieve lasting, life-changing results is being applied to public and private treatment programs. One of those programs is Benton County’s Drug Treatment Court.

There have been 70 or so graduates in its six years of existence, and officials say the program, which costs less than one-tenth as much as incarceration, is responsible for seeing some of the area’s most chronic criminal drug offenders become clean and sober, finish school, find jobs and become productive members of the community.

Cause for change

Figures from the Oregon Department of Human Services show that about 90 percent of children in foster care are there because of their parents’ drug use.

Hogansen previously worked as a clinical psychologist at Oregon Health & Science University and as a research assistant professor at Portland State University, where she studied the incidence of disabilities of children in Oregon’s foster care system. It’s believed than many of these children have a disability or experienced abuse, Hogansen said.

“When meth is involved, these rates skyrocket,” she said.

Drug addiction is a strategy that some people use for managing life, and parents who are using this strategy typically have limited parenting skills. For example, parents who are meth users often do not parent at all, meaning they neglect their children.

“This often results in an absence of basic needs like food, shelter and love,” Hogansen said.

Many of these children go on to have emotional or behavioral problems and developmental issues such as defiant behavior, communication problems, poor attention and impulse control, sensory difficulties and impaired emotional regulation, Hogansen said.

A flawed strategy

According to figures from the Benton County District Attorney’s office, 80 percent of the criminal cases are alcohol- or drug-related. Many of those crimes are thefts and burglaries committed by people who are trying to steal so they can pay for drugs. Most of these people make their way to the parole and probation system and get caught again for the same crimes.

The cycle is doomed to repeat, Gouveia explained.

“People can be compliant with treatment so long as there’s a hammer held over their head,” he said.

But compliance usually only lasts as long as drug users are supervised.

Turning things around

Benton County’s multidisciplinary drug treatment court incorporates the district attorney’s office, public defenders, psychologists and treatment providers, and law enforcement to work with drug users to internalize a behavior change.

“We work on getting them to see the benefit to them. If we motivate them to change, that will be lasting because it’s a choice they made, not a choice someone’s made for them,” Gouveia said.

Using a method known as motivational interviewing, treatment providers work with drug users to change their behavior. Through cognitive behavior therapy, people learn how to recognize and evaluate when they’re having thinking errors and to see how using drugs is not an effective way to deal with life.

Treatment involves intensive case management, as clients receive mental health care and housing assistance, and take GED, college or job-training courses. A majority of people in the program are parents, Gouveia said, and those with children are required to take parenting classes.

At a cost to the county of $9 a day, the drug treatment court program is a significant savings compared to the $150 a day the county pays to keep a person in jail. Benton County Drug Treatment Court Judge Janet Holcomb said the program is the best strategy she’s ever seen for dealing with criminal defendants.

“It’s cost effective,” Holcomb said. “It ties a lot of community partners together. I’m sold.”

Unlike in the regular criminal justice system, the consequences are immediate, as offenders can be whisked off to jail for failing a random drug test or lying to the judge at a mandatory weekly court appearance.

“The quickest way to get sent to jail in drug treatment court is to lie. We teach them to be honest in their recovery and provide close supervision and accountability,” Holcomb said.

Although drug treatment court is an accountability model, it’s also based on improving lives and strengthening and empowering people, Holcomb said. The change can be gradual to take hold.

“But people really do want to change their lives,” she said.

source: Albany Democrat Herald

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