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Agencies get more funds to treat addicts

Jennifer Thim, receives congratulations from a friend Thursday as she takes part in a brief graduation ceremony at the Prosperity Recovery House in Sumner, Wash., after successfully completing a 28-day treatment program for alcohol addiction.  
 (Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)
Jennifer Thim, receives congratulations from a friend Thursday as she takes part in a brief graduation ceremony at the Prosperity Recovery House in Sumner, Wash., after successfully completing a 28-day treatment program for alcohol addiction. (Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)
Rachel La Corte Associated Press

OLYMPIA – A suicide attempt got Jennifer Thim into alcohol treatment for what she hopes is the last time.

Thim, 54, previously had been asked to leave a halfway home for recovering alcoholics after a relapse. When she overdosed on sleeping pills in July, the hospital she recovered in got her into Prosperity Counseling and Treatment Services Inc. in Sumner, a facility that often has a months-long backlog.

Thim, who had been to Prosperity before, wasn’t sure they’d take her back.

“I’m very grateful,” she said. “If I continued to drink I was going to die. Either the alcohol was going to kill me or I was going to kill myself.”

Thim arrived in late July, just as Prosperity and other state-sponsored facilities like it received additional state funding. Over the next two years, about 11,000 more people will have access to drug and alcohol treatment after the state reallocated $51 million to the Division of Alcohol and Substance Abuse at the Department of Social and Health Services as of July 1.

Lawmakers shifted the money from Medicaid and nursing home budgets within the department in hopes that treating people with addictions will help save money in those other departments.

“For years, we have been doing research to show the costs of not providing drug and alcohol treatment to these folks when they need it,” said Ken Stark, the director of the Division of Alcohol and Substance Abuse. “It’s basic logic.”

Research by the division found that investing in treatment saves substantial amounts of money that traditionally goes to jails and prisons, medical and psychiatric care, and foster care needed due to alcohol and other drug abuse.

For Thim, who has been battling her drinking problem for 14 years, run-ins with the law included drunken driving, an assault charge and a probation violation.

“I was so frustrated with myself that I would turn to alcohol for my relief,” she said, “and then I’d keep doing that over and over again even knowing that it wasn’t good for me.”

Thim “graduated” this week from the center, and moves on to a “clean and sober” home. She will continue outpatient counseling at another facility.

Under the expanded funding, Prosperity will receive an additional $1.2 million over the next two years, allowing the program to add 21 additional beds, hire four additional staff members and give all of their employees raises.

“It’s a wonderful thing for the entire system,” said David Laws, Prosperity’s administrator. “There’s a bit of a counselor shortage because of low wages. For us to be more competitive and pay them what they are worth is significant.”

Stark said his department originally asked for $53 million, promising to save the state at least $64 million.

“In the beginning everybody challenged it,” he said. “Over time, as we kept doing research, it no longer became a question of whether there would be savings. It became a question of how much savings there would be.”

While previously, the state could only offer addiction treatment to 25 percent of the people who needed it, the additional funding allows that number to grow to 40 percent by next July, and 60 percent by 2007, Stark said.

“Now the pressure is certainly on,” Stark said. “People will be watching to see if we successfully implement and have those savings.”

Stark said state officials hope that if lawmakers see significant cost savings, his department will get even more money to offer treatment to 80 percent of the people who need it.

Washington Medicaid director Doug Porter cited a DSHS report that showed treatment for drug use disorders resulted in significant Medicaid savings: $252 per patient per month, compared to those who did not receive treatment.

“I want to believe these are the results, but let’s show people, make sure it’s proving up,” Porter said. “Do we see the ER visits going down, are we seeing the narcotic prescriptions getting lighter? Let’s show people it’s working.”

Currently, 74 percent of youth and 69 percent of adults who need and qualify for chemical dependency treatment cannot get it because of funding limitations.

“It’s a staggering problem,” said Sen. Margarita Prentice, D-Renton.

The new funding will expand access to treatment for certain Medicaid eligible individuals, including people who are elderly, disabled, or who receive temporary assistance. It also expands treatment for financially eligible teens.

“It’s absolutely a life or death situation,” Stark said. “People have to realize this is a disease of crisis. If you do not engage the individual at a time when they’re feeling the desire or pressure to do something about their life then they’re just going to go back to using the drugs. Very few people wake up with an addiction one morning and say today I’m going to go to treatment.”

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