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December 11th, 2002 Chris Lydgate | News Stories
 

Needles and Pins

Budget ax hacks at most effective treatment for junkies--acupuncture.

     
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The Portland Alternative Health Center, which helps hard-bitten drunks and drug addicts kick the habit through a mix of acupuncture, mentoring and housing, was recognized this week as one of the six most effective addiction-treatment programs in America.

"PAHC is a national model," says John Lozier, executive director of the National Health Care for the Homeless Council in Washington, D.C., which bestowed the honor. "PAHC has demonstrated a high degree of clinical effectiveness in conjunction with a cost-efficient delivery system."

This being Oregon, the government's response is to chop the center's funding.

"It's pretty ironic," sighs PAHC director David Eisen. "We get this prestigious accolade and now all these potential cuts."

Located at 1201 SW Morrison St., the center sees roughly 1,700 clients a year--junkies, cokeheads, speed freaks and drunks beset by psychiatric problems, poor health, unemployment and homelessness. Yet an independent study found that 87 percent of these hardcore desperados stayed clean for at least six months after graduating from the program. "This model works," says Eisen. "It works extremely well."

On a typical weekday, as many as 200 recovering addicts descend on the Center to quell the cravings and mute the agony of withdrawal.

At Eisen's behest, I agreed--with some trepidation--to get stuck. Quick as a wink, Eisen slipped three pins into each ear with the dexterity of a professional darts thrower. There was no pain, only a feeling of heat radiating from the pinna (outer ear), followed by a wave of relief rolling down the spine, slowing the breath and relaxing the shoulders. Strains of Miles Davis wafted across the room as clients sat silently, their ears bristling with pins.

"For physical aches and pains, it works wonderfully," says Samajean, 44, a heroin addict for 30 years who says he's stayed clean for the past six months. "It's a miracle. I couldn't have done it without PAHC."

Recent cuts to the Oregon Health Plan mean that PAHC will lose funding for about 1,000 clients starting March 1. The budget squeeze at Multnomah County also threatens the center's mentoring program and drug-and-alcohol-free housing.

The cost of treatment and housing is approximately $1,500 per client for a six-month stretch, according to Ed Blackburn of Central City Concern, which operates the center. That's about one-seventh of the cost of keeping someone in state prison. "It's about the most cost-effective way you can go," says Blackburn.

Altogether, cuts to the PAHC's funding will save state and local government about $600,000.

 
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