PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Experts think Oregon needs to get more creative in its fight against drug addiction and move away from the ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach.
Substance use disorders have reached epidemic proportions in the state. The Oregon Alcohol and Drug Police Commission estimates there are nearly 500,000 people in Oregon struggling with addiction.
The cost of addiction runs up a high bill. Each year, Oregon spends around $6 billion on addiction-related healthcare, lost productivity and criminal justice expenses.
These statistics have inspired some people to improve upon the treatment and recovery methods currently in place.
Tony Vezina is one of those people. He’s a former heroin user who has been clean for 6 years and now helps others find their own paths to recovery through his non-profit recovery center called The 4th Dimension.
The center focuses on supporting young people as they shake off the grips of addiction and provides various support services, like peer-mentoring and sober social events. It’s hailed as the first youth-led recovery community organization of its kind in the U.S.
Vezina was one of several panelists at an Oregon Health Forum held this week to discuss access to treatment, integrating substance use disorder treatment into healthcare and improving the chances of sustainable recoveries.
Vezina told those gathered that places like the center he co-founded are trying to help fix the overall issue, but there needs to be a coordinated effort if bigger strides are to be made. He thinks this starts with Oregon investing more in addiction help because few people with substance use disorders seek treatment and even fewer receive it.
“The barrier is that when people want to change, there isn’t anywhere for them to go,” Vezina said.
Experts say the state’s biggest obstacle is a lack of access to treatment, not knowing how to fund it and a need to develop recovery support services to keep people from using substances for the long term.
“I think we will see less people in the emergency rooms, less people going in and out of jail, less people homeless, we’ll have better graduation rates for our teens,” said Vezina. “The cost of healthcare will decrease.”
Another panelist at the forum, Karen Kern, is the senior director of substance use disorder services for Central City Concern. Kern works to provide services for those experiencing homelessness.
She said access to recovery should be more readily available to everyone.
“That there’s a solution for, a treatment for, and we can move beyond,” Kern said.