Hooper Detox Center Praised;
Reporter Refuses to Air Facts
by Cliff Walker

When I called the Oregonian and challenged the claims made in this "puff piece" (below) and asked them if they would like to report the views and activities of those who dispute the claims of Hooper Detox Center's director Ed Blackburn, and to report on important information left out of this article, reporter Wade Nkrumah told me, "That's not how things are done here." A man claiming to be Nkrumah's boss said basically the same thing. (An Oregonian receptionist later denied that the man could have been Nkrumah's boss, telling me, "Wade's boss has been in a meeting all afternoon; I can see him through the glass right now.")

The Oregonian article makes it appear as if Hooper has treated 100,000 individuals with an 80 percent success rate. This would mean that there are 80,000 fewer winos staggering on the streets of Portland than there were 20 years ago.

Do you believe any of that? I don't.

Hooper cannot have seen "100,000 individuals," as Hooper director Ed Blackburn boldly claimed to the Oregonian. There aren't that many substance abusers in the entire state of Oregon (Portland has about half a million residents), and only a comparative handful have ever been to Hooper. The key to Blackburn's deception comes early in the article, with the description of former client Barb Sander, saying, "she frequented Hooper in the early through mid-1980s."

Oh! Ms Sander frequented Hooper -- like most Hooper inmates do -- meaning that Hooper's doors may have slammed shut behind people 100,000 times, but not that 100,000 different individuals have graced the inside of Hooper's concrete chambers as clients.

Does this change how important a role Hooper Detox plays in our community?

The other irresponsible (and completely false) implication made by this article is Hooper's claimed "success rate." If you read this piece carefully, "success" equals "completion and probably means the client didn't bolt out the door before completing the pre-arranged amount of time in the facility. Considering that many of Portland's street inebriates aren't ashamed to use Hooper as a flop-house, that isn't saying much.

Neither this article nor a similar article in Willamette Week pointed out what Ed Blackburn said to me when I called last month. I asked him if I could come in once a month and teach the planned, permanent abstinence methods advocated by Rational Recovery. Not that I am unqualified, mind you, I have been teaching RR's methods for almost five years and RR founder Jack Trimpey has said that I am one of the most talented RR coordinators in the United States.

No. Neither my qualifications nor the effectiveness of RR's methods are the issue at all. Hooper, and government-funded facilities like it, are not looking for results -- as measured by permanent abstinence.

Blackburn's given reason for not letting me talk: "This is a Twelve Step program."

Oh. So Hooper is not simply a "sobering station" as claimed several times in the articles. Hooper Detox, like most addiction "treatment" programs, is as a front for getting people involved in the "keep coming back"-style Twelve Step programs -- as evidenced by Blackburn's refusal to consider allowing a philosophy which deals exclusively with teaching abstinence as a skill.

The director of the publicly-funded dePaul Center gave a similar reason for refusing to allow their clients to attend RR meetings. "Your values are at odds with the values we teach at dePaul," she said. (Never mind that RR teaches a technique for learning planned, permanent abstinence -- allowing the individual's values to remain intact.) Many treatment administrators are much more candid in revealing that the main goal in treatment is not abstinence, but teaching involvement in the Twelve Step programs.

Blackburn displays a haughty superiority over his clients (and the public) at the end of the article: "People on the outside often look at these people as less than human,'' he says. "We don't. We look at them as prisoner of a disease." First, many of us "people" see street inebriates as the irresponsible, self-indulgent slobs that they are. Hooper is one more Rescue-Mission shelter option for many of them. Secondly, if "alcoholism" is a disease, then why is there not an effective medical solution for it? Why are there as many theories about its nature as there are theoritst? And why do the vast majority of formerly addicted people (some say 70%) outgrow their problem on their own -- without any help at all?

Why is the religion of the Twelve Step programs the only "solution" offered? Six of the Twelve Steps make a direct reference to a an immanent, benign, rescuing deity -- variously known as "God" and "Him" and "Power greater than ourselves." (Note the capitalized words.) Only one Step mentions alcohol, saying that people are "powerless over alcohol." How healthy or effective can this defeatist message be? The only ones who benefit from the "powerlessness" idea are those who own and run the "treatment" centers where those "powerless" clients just "keep coming back."

And why don't advocates of the spiritual healing approach of Alcoholics Anonymous proudly display the figures released by AA World Services: that only 5 percent of people who go to AA are still there one year later? AA admits that it loses half its new people within one month. AA has been conducting this study for over twenty-one years with no significant variation in the results.

But don't even consider lettin someone come in and teach something different.

One Step -- all are required for continued sobriety -- instructs members to "carry" the Twelve Step message to others. Of course, those Twelve Step members who are now on the public payroll in the addiction "treatment" industry are not exempt from this commandment. We know that the religious Twelve Step message is carried to people in the throes of detox at Hooper. That Hooper is a Twelve Step program was the main point Blackburn tried to make to me.

If permanent abstinence is a desired outcome for addiction treatment, why to they use twelve "steps" which never once even mention abstinence?

Why are the Twelve Steps so popular in the addiction "treatment" field as to literally exclude any other methods which are probably more effective than the Twelve Steps and are certainly more ethical when it comes to our Constitution's ban on using public monies to establish and teach religion?

And why do the activists who would normally be jumping up and down over this blatant and widespread abuse keep strangely mum about the exclusive use of Twelve Step programs in our public institutions -- to the exclusion of other methods?

Something is wrong; something is terribly wrong, here.

But really, who cares about the rights and welfare of junkies and winos? Could that be why none of the regular activists are willing to speak out about this? Or are they just not aware of the situation?

Hardly anyone one is willing to tell me is how much public money goes to support this enforced religious instruction -- not Hooper, not the Oregonian; not Portland Mayor Vera Katz's office (who promised to find out and call back*); not Multnomah County Supervisor Beverly Stein (who also promised to find out and call back**); only a brief sidebar in Willamette Week. Remember, Hooper was started with a grant from Multnomah County because public inebriation was decriminalized; now, drunks are schleped off to Hooper instead of jail. If Hooper was simply a medical detox program, I would have no problem with it at all. At all.

I soon will figure out a way to get the attention of the press: I want to come up with a plan to advocate the withdrawal of public funding of Hooper and its friendly competitor the dePaul Center. DePaul's director once told me that any of her clients caught attending a Rational Recovery meeting will be ejected from the live-in center. And Hooper's and dePaul's success rates -- as measured by permanent abstinence; as measured by reducing or solving the problem -- are nothing to crow about.

Not to mention unconstitutional.

But we're still paying for it.

-- Cliff Walker

The Hooper Puff Piece:

Hooper Detox Celebrates Changing Lives
Director Says 100,000 Received Services at Center
by Wade Nkrumah
Thursday, November 14, 1996

You can count Barb Sander among the tame and typical who have passed through the Hooper Detox Center.

Tame because Sander who was treated for alcohol and drugs when she frequented Hooper in the early through mid-1980s, is a contrast to the sometimes more volatile heroin addicts now treated at the center on Portland's eastside.

Typical because Sander, with 11-plus years of clean and sober living, is a Hooper success story.

Ed Blackburn, director of Hooper since 1992, says the center's detoxification program completion rate is 80 percent for alcohol and cocaine addicts and 65 percent for heroin addicts. He says that's a higher success rate than similar programs elsewhere.

Sander doesn't doubt it.

"For me, personally," she said, "I think Hooper played an integral part. Hooper was able to kind of steer me."

And thousands more.

Tens of thousands more, Blackburn says.

Such successes are no trivial matter at Hooper, which operates an alcohol and drug detoxification program at 20 N.E. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.

So it's no wonder Hooper detox, officially known as the David P. Hooper Memorial Detoxification Center, will be making a big deal of contributions to the community Tuesday with a 25th anniversary party.

Festivities will begin at 7 p.m. at Lloyd Center Exhibit Hall at Red Lion Hotel, 1000 N.E. Multnomah St.

For Blackburn, Hooper's 25th birthday is a milestone worthy of pomp and circumstance yet Blackburn is aware the significance of the Hooper event might be lost on the so-what crowd -- the many city residents who are unaware of the center and the services it provides.

"There are 100,000 individuals that have received services from the Hooper Center," he says. "There are tens of thousands of people in the metro area who are affected by Hooper. They've either been in Hooper Center or they know someone -- family or friends -- who have been in Hooper. Those people won't be saying 'So what.'"

It's with good reason that Blackburn comes across equal parts proud parent and protective older sibling when talking about Hooper. He knows there's a fine line between past successes and current challenges.

All he has to do is refer to admissions records for Hooper's Chiers, sobering, and medical detoxification programs. Chiers is the Central City Concern Hooper Inebriate Emergency Response Service.

The figures show Hooper has been receiving about 9,000 individuals yearly since 1993. At this rate, Blackburn says glumly, Hooper will admit in the next 10 years as many people -- 100,000 -- received in its first 25 years.

He says Hooper's international and national reputation for helping people partly accounts for the high numbers. That's good news for an organization that relies on word-of-mouth instead of advertising.

Blackburn says Hooper is visited regularly by people specializing in alcohol and drug treatment and government officials from countries in Africa and the Middle East, as well as Canada and Russia.

Among the visitors is Patrick Vanzo, division manager for Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services for Seattle-King County Department of Public Health.

He said the agency is planning to build a sobering center north of downtown Seattle that is modeled after Hooper.

"They were able to put an affective chemical and medical intervention program in place for minimal cost," Vanzo said of Hooper.

"I realized we needed to do something very, very similar to what Portland has done if we're going to make inroads into the chronic public inebriate population. We knew we had to get a service very much like Hooper on line here in Seattle. They are a national model."

Yet, Blackburn is well aware reputation alone isn't fueling Hooper's admissions' increases. He knows the higher numbers also are the result of a dramatic rise in heroin use over the past five years.

Blackburn says about 60 percent of detoxification program admissions this year -- 1,022 -- are heroin addicts. That's a 260 percent increase over five years up from the 284 heroin clients admitted in 1992.

He says most clients are 18- to 25-years-old, and probably started using heroin six months to three years before deciding to seek treatment.

"This epidemic didn't start in 1992," Blackburn says.

He says about 30 percent of heroin clients are women, for which there are only 18 beds in the voluntary detoxification program.

"We're turning women away," Blackburn says.

He says Hooper turns away about 15 people a day. "That was not the case three years ago."

The explosion in heroin addictions has impacted Hooper greatly' he says, amounting to an additional per year load of 738 clients, 19,000 blood pressure tests, 15,000 meals and 12,000 medications.

"So logistically, it just comes at us," Blackburn says. "They also prevent new challenges for us in terms of managing and intervening the withdrawal of the disease."

Because heroin is an illegal drug, simply obtaining it means breaking the law. Therefore, Blackburn says, clients are "more criminally involved" than those suffering from alcohol

He says combating the heroin tide has required Hooper to retrain staff and search for new medical approaches.

Still, not everyone is toasting Hooper Center or cheering Chiers. It is the program that puts a van on the streets of Portland to cruise the city and pick up people who are passed out on the streets because of drinking or drugs, or who are too drunk or drugged to care for themselves.

Nor are they thrilled about the sobering station, a 4,000 square-foot space on the first floor of Hooper Center where people are taken until the effects of drinking or drugs wears off. It has large and small common space and individual concrete-walled holding cells.

The word on the street within some circles of homeless people is that the tactics employed by the Chiers van and workers at the sobering station approach brutality.

Blackburn says that's because people picked up by the Chiers van -- an average of 3,000 a year -- and taken to Hooper's sobering station often "resent having their inebriation process interrupted."

But the sobering station isn't a jail, Blackburn emphasizes, saying its purpose is to provide a safe place for people until the effects of their drinking and drugs wear off.

"The sobering station has saved a lot of lives," Blackburn says.

Thus, he makes no apologies about the sobering station being a "bare-bones, concrete-area;" after all, the people taken there often are a drunken mess and sick.

Blackburn says people who are combative when they arrive at the sobering station are placed in a holding cell to calm down.

The people who run the sobering station aren't equipped with weapons. Rather, Blackburn says, they rely on training that has taught them to calm unruly clients by talking to them. However, should that approach prove futile, sobering station staff is trained in applying "non-aggressive" physical restraint holds as a last resort.

Their work impresses Chuck Currie, coordinator of Burnside Advocates Group, an advocacy organization for homeless people.

"I think Chiers is particularly a good program," he said. "I've seen them treat homeless people with nothing but respect."

Portland Police Bureau Sgt. Karl McDade, who worked downtown for five of his 18 years on the street, said the people picked up by Chiers lessen the load for police.

"Those would have been people we would have had to pick up and take there," he said, referring to the sobering station. "We call them oftentimes to assists."

McDade knows the nightly challenges awaiting Chiers, having driven the van as a volunteer for a year.

"Basically, the Chiers people are the only friends these alcoholics have," he said. "And it's somewhat dangerous. They get assaulted by people. They're waking up someone and they'll get up swinging. That's not unusual. It's a tough job."

During their stay, Blackburn says, clients are monitored for seizures and withdrawal symptoms and their intoxication level and medical problems are evaluated People are kept warm -- the temper temperature is about 74 degrees -- and fed soup.

The law allows the sobering station to keep people up to 48 hours, though Blackburn says most are released within five hours.

"People on the outside often look at these people as less than human,'' he adds.

"We don't. We look at them as prisoner of a disease. And we know what kind of behavior that can produce. Some of those people get sober, and when they get sober, they often come back and thank us for saving their lives."

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