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More People Released from OR Prisons Need Substance-Abuse Treatment

PHOTO: Two men hold signs describing how treatment and recovery has changed their lives. A new state audit says only about half of those released from prison who need substance abuse treatment are getting it. Courtesy PSJ.
PHOTO: Two men hold signs describing how treatment and recovery has changed their lives. A new state audit says only about half of those released from prison who need substance abuse treatment are getting it. Courtesy PSJ.
August 15, 2013

PORTLAND, Ore. – When and whether Oregonians released from prison get the treatment they need for drug and alcohol abuse is the subject of an audit released this week by the Oregon Secretary of State's office.

Of about 4,500 people considered to be high-risk for relapse or reoffending, state auditors found over a recent three-year period (2008-2011), about half did not receive substance abuse treatment when they were released, although it was recommended.

Audit Division Director Gary Blackmer says for the most part, it's because their county didn't provide it.

"There's some state dollars that come down, but it's largely dependent upon the counties to come up with the money, and most of the counties are spending their money on, you know, jails and other kinds of monitoring supervision activities,” he says. “So, it was really a matter of money, for most of the counties."

Starting next year, substance-abuse treatment will be covered by Medicaid as part of the Affordable Care Act. Blackmer says that should give some financial relief to counties to expand their treatment programs, and the audit says the Corrections Department should work with counties to make that happen.

The audit found that the state and crime victims would have saved $21.6 million if all the high-risk offenders who needed drug and alcohol treatment had received it.

David Rogers, executive director of the Partnership for Safety and Justice, takes that premise a step further – to before they were convicted.

"I think the audit is a reminder that more can be done,” he explains. “Expanding access to treatment in the community when people return is great – it's a good step. But a better step is getting more people access to treatment and proven accountability interventions before sending them to prison at all."

The audit report also notes that it costs about $16 a day to treat and supervise someone in the community – and $84 a day to keep that person in prison.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR