Meth and Mentors

Recently, 140 southern Oregonians attended a Meth Summit to discuss how our community can deal with the Meth epidemic. We heard both good and bad news. The good news was””notwithstanding the flood of foreign Meth into Oregon””through a combination of tough laws limiting pseudoephedrine and effective law enforcement, the number of Oregon Meth labs has been dramatically reduced. We heard from a young woman tell her heart-breaking story. Ten years ago she had it all””she was in the top 5% of her high school class; she had loving parents, an upper middle class home and a bright and limitless future. Then she made a few bad choices.At 18 she got pregnant and moved out of her home; for the first time she had to face life on her own. As a poor, single mother she drifted into a circle of accepting friends, and together they found relief from the boredom and hopelessness of their situation through drugs. At first she found taking Meth exciting, stimulating, energizing and fun. While taking Meth she felt empowered and could do anything, but as the months passed, instead of empowering, the Meth overpowered her, and consumed her life.

In the years that followed, she lost her job; she lost her self-esteem; she lost custody of her children; she even lost her driving privileges. Ultimately, she hit rock bottom in a flop house with a man she hardly knew, with criminal charges pending and a possible jail sentence hanging over her.

This young woman stood before us as one who had everything, lost it all, and, through the dedicated services of caseworkers in the court system and DHS has traveled through drug addiction treatment, has avoided jail, has regained custody of her children and again has hope for her future. We rejoiced with her. She is overcoming great personal challenges. We praise her courage and delight in her success. She has miles yet to go.

The story of this young woman’s journey into the slavery of addiction is only one of thousands in Oregon. She is one drug addict who, with the help of government-funded programs and dedicated caseworkers, has been lifted from her personal pit of despair. The cost of this one case in police, DHS, drug treatment, courts and caseworker time is huge. What if she were your daughter or mine? Most of us would agree with the sentiment, that the worth of this girl’s life is infinite, but as we also know, Oregon’s tax resources are limited and there are multiple demands for every dollar. Thus, we in the Legislature and as concerned citizens find ourselves in a perpetual conundrum.

Whether it is the need for accessible and affordable health care for the sick, safe and warm housing for the homeless, food for the hungry, sufficient jail beds for criminals, adequate hospital beds for the mentally ill, or long-term care for the elderly, each need is worthy and each need is growing.

Important lessons I have learned from my experiences with human services while in the Legislature include, (1.) issues of extreme poverty, drug addiction, hunger, homelessness and disease are pervasive societal problems; (2.) they will not go away if ignored; and (3.) they worsen when we as a society fail to adequately address them.

Although daunting, I believe we can solve every societal need over time, but it will take our best minds, our best efforts and our best selves to do it. Once we take our heads out of the sand, the important questions are how do we address these problems and where do we start?

We must address these problems in a rational manner. It has been said many times and it is worth repeating, “One symptom of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, while expecting a different result.” Too many Oregonians are symptomatic when they continue to focus the human services debate on raising taxes. Certainly, raising taxes could fund more social programs, but the current attitude of the majority of taxpayers””not just in Oregon, but nationally””is “enough is enough.” By substantial majorities Oregon voters have repeatedly told the Legislature to live within its current revenue streams. So, if more money is not the answer, what is? “¦We are the answer.

This issue is vitally important. Essentially, the question is how can we change our statewide approach to helping the addicted, the poor, the sick, the hungry and the needy in a way that is affordable, sustainable and successful? Since what we are doing is unsustainable, it is time to seriously consider alternative ways of delivering human services. I want to share with you the discussion of the Oregon Model for a community based delivery system, from my February 11, 2005 newsletter, we can then answer the question, “Where do we start.”

The Oregon Model: Community Services Delivery System
Oregon’s system for delivering health and human services to our most needy citizens, young and old, cannot be sustained. The escalating costs of health care, the advancing age of our population and the lack of meaningful economic drivers to create new jobs and tax revenue in Oregon all lead to one conclusion, Oregon needs a new model for caring for the poor and needy.

Currently, Oregon and the federal government rely on a top-down system that relies on ever-increasing tax expenditures to provide benefits to those who qualify. Qualifications are based on arbitrary levels of income that were established in 1955 based on three-times the monthly cost of food for a family, periodically adjusted for inflation, etc. I know I am being grossly simplistic, but the truth remains, this premise of setting a poverty-line has been flawed from the outset, because it defines poverty and grants benefits only for those who are “lucky” enough to make less than some factor of the Federal Poverty Limit (FPL).

Thus, anyone who makes more than the FPL factor is discriminated against because they fail to “qualify” as being poor. As a result of the qualification-based-on-income levels, poor people are reluctant to take a job that increases their income above the poverty level, for fear of losing many expensive government benefits. Essentially, the very system designed to help the poor has resulted in locking most poor people into poverty. In addition, we have transferred our Christian responsibility to help care for the poor to the state and federal government. I am not advocating replacing the current tax-financed and government-administrated system of providing for the poor to a charity-based system. The costs are too great; the needs are too many, and it would be unrealistic to place the full responsibility on the private and non-profit sectors. What we can do is admit the costs of the current system are unsustainable and that long term planning requires a new model for delivery o! f health and human services. The new Oregon Model should involve a partnership involving resources of the individual, the individual’s family, the community and the government. The new Oregon Model would promote solving community problems at the community level.

As an update, I have continued working on such a community-based system for delivering health and human services that emphasizes principles of self-sufficiency, independence, personal accountability, charity and service. To help clarify what I mean by a new Oregon Model for delivering health and human services I present the following premises. Let me know if you have additional suggestions that might help with its design or implementation.

Guiding Principles for Developing The Oregon Model:
Community Services Delivery System

Mission: Neighbors helping neighbors solve their problems, meet their needs, achieve their goals, and become as self-reliant as possible utilizing their own personal, family, community resources, and lastly state and federal resources. Principles for Implementation:

* We can eliminate poverty and suffering from our abundant society by assisting individuals and families in becoming self-reliant. There is increased dignity and self-worth when one provides for oneself and one’s own family.

* We are not helping when we do for others what they could do for themselves.

* Problems should be solved at the level closest to the individual, beginning with his or her personal and family resources.

* For community assistance there should be no qualifications other than residency. Qualifications based on arbitrary standards, such as income levels, discriminate against and disqualify all who do not meet these standards. The goals are to eliminate poverty and suffering, not politicize, subside or institutionalize them.

* There should be no class distinctions in Oregon. We are all dependent on our community. Whether we require permanent 24/7 residential care, or merely benefit from police and fire protection and use public streets, schools and parks, we all are on a continuum from dependence to independence and self-reliance. There is no shame in needing and seeking help from our community neighbors.

The Oregon Model of Community Services must be adaptable and flexible enough to solve both the common and unique needs of each community’s members, and utilize the myriad strengths of each community’s own resources.

I am convinced more today than ever that the proposed Oregon Model of Community Services, if implemented, would focus a wealth of resources””not just money””where they would do the most good, and provide a structure for a sustainable human services delivery system, regardless of what the future brings.

Unfortunately, reforming state government is like turning an ocean liner; it takes time. Our Meth epidemic is raging today and we have not time to waste, so where do we start?”

We have Meth addicts who are going through recovery treatment programs, who want to change their habits and their lifestyle, but are unable to do so alone. If we leave them stranded and alone their likelihood of completing the transition to a healthy, productive lifestyle is minimal.

At the conclusion of the southern Oregon Meth Summit mentioned above, we were asked what we, as a community, can do in the next year to help deal with the Meth epidemic. One observation was Meth addiction affects entire families, and if we assist the addict’s entire family, there would be greater motivation and the support to help heal all of their lives.

Many addicts have forgotten what it is like to live a normal life. They may never have seen how functional families function. They may have completed drug treatment, but do not know how to make attainable educational or vocational goals, access housing, parent appropriately, or live a healthy lifestyle. They need a mentor, a healthy person or family to befriend them. It was suggested yesterday that every faith-based congregation in our community might “adopt” a recovering Meth addict and his or her family. The vast wealth of personal experience within the body of each congregation could mobilize to assist, education and encourage a recovering addict and family in their journey toward self-sufficiency, happiness and stability. Individual families, in the right circumstances, might be willing to take into their circle of influence a recovering addict or family, and befriend them. These acts of quiet service would not only help save those in need, but would set a powerfu! l example to our youth of responding to civic duty and loving one’s neighbor. The challenge of “each one reaching one,” gains new significance when applied to helping a recovering addict catch the vision that there really is a way out of their addiction and hope for a productive and happy life.

So where do we begin? Everyone is busy and there are countless excuses for not getting involved, but I, for one, am willing to step forward and offer some of my limited time and services to be part of the solution. Yesterday, a concerned woman who cares about our community, Lynn Aiello, also placed her name on the list of those willing to step forward and become a mentor for some person or family in need. Together Lynn and I are willing to help organize the “mentoring” piece of southern Oregon’s plan for solving the Meth epidemic by helping to heal the recovering addict. Will you join us?


Dennis Richardson
State Representative
Speaker Pro Tempore

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