The Waiting Game
by Chris Lydgate
Willamette Week, November 26, 1996

Every morning, junkies trying to kick the habit face a grim triage at Hooper Detox.





The Hooper Center is named for David P. Hooper, a former track star, who died in 1971 at the old city jail of heart disease due to alcoholism. He was 56 years old and had been arrested 93 times for public drunkenness.






Hooper admitted roughly 3,000 clients to its sub-acute detox program last year. About 60 percent are heroin addicts, 30 percent are alcoholics and 10 percent cocaine or crack addicts.






Hooper Detox gets 36 percent of its $2.4 million budget from the city and county, funding that could be threatened by Measure 47.






This month, the Hooper Memorial Detoxification Center celebrates its 25th anniversary. Notable people involved in its opening included a neighborhood activist named Vera Katz.




 Hurry Up and Wait: Early-morning clients jonesing for a chance to get into Hooper. One tactic for late risers as to drink enough to get tossed into the drunk tank after midnight, which gives them a better shot at the head of the line the next day.

You can see them at 7:30 on any given morning, rain or shine, lining up outside the Hooper Detoxification Center on the corner of Northeast Couch Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. They keep bags at their feet and cigarettes clamped in their mouths. They do not smile. They are casualties of the drug war, and they are waiting to surrender.

This month, Hooper celebrates its 25th anniversary. Originally established to get alcoholics off the streets. out of jail and into treatment, its mission has evolved over the years. Now, in addition to running the city's only "sobering station" -- better known to most Portlanders as a drunk tank -- Hooper also operates the only free detox program in town, for any type of habit. For alcoholics, junkies, speed freaks and crack-heads desperate for a way out of their addictions, Hooper is a place to come in from the cold.

Fancy it ain't. Housed in a former bank building on one of Portland's bleaker intersections, Hooper offers its clients an unvarnished version of life without booze or drugs.

It is, in many ways, the ideal place to be when the chickens start circling the runway. It provides the basic needs -- hot meals, clean clothes, a warm bed -- that most addicts have long neglected in their quest to get loaded. It provides medication to ease the agonies of withdrawal. Most importantly, it gives clients a chance to realize that addiction is not just a disease of the body, but a disease of the mind.

Despite its no-frills approach, business at Hooper is never slow. On Monday morning, admitting clerk Faye Moore unlocked the doors at 7:45 am. The people waiting outside sprang to their feet, stubbing out cigarettes on their shoes and gathering up their bags.

One by one, the addicts stepped up to the admitting desk to plead their case. But this morning, there was room for only four -- the rest would have to wait.

Among those turned away was a 47 year old heroin addict who had been turned away the previous day as well. "I'll keep coming back 'til they Let me in," he said. "I need to get this monkey off my back. I've got to face reality."

Another heroin addict, a 25-year-old musician, had tried to get into Hooper four times in the past week. But he overslept the previous day, knocking him back to the bottom of the list. "Now I pretty much have to start over," he said, Lighting a cigarette outside Hooper's grim exterior. He insisted that his resolve to quit was firm. "At this point, the agony of bare naked withdrawal is a daunting prospect."

The scarcity of beds has made triage part of the routine at Hooper. "It's tough turning anybody away," says Moore, who has run the front desk for the past seven years. "But you have to make a decision."

Hooper has 52 beds (just 12 are for women), but only enough staff to handle about 40 clients at any given time, according to director Ed Blackburn. Top priority goes to the clients who are expected to have the most severe withdrawal -- alcoholics, followed by methadone and heroin addicts, then methamphetamine addicts and, finally, crack-heads. Additional factors include medical problems such as abscesses or cirrhosis, a history of mental illness, and sheer persistence.

"I'm really glad I got in," says a 36-year-old heroin addict who looks a little like Courtney Love. She had shown up at Hooper twice earlier in the week but was turned down for lack of space.

The efforts on my own have not been successful," she says. "I've been selling off my worldly possessions. I've been selling off my life."

Detox at Hooper Lasts anywhere from four days to two weeks, depending on the drug and the dose the addict has been using. For the first few days, clients wear hospital-blue smocks with cloth shoes. They sit in a circle while acupuncturists stick pins in their ears. They have group sessions, discuss their problems. For most the biggest problem is sheer boredom: Often, they don't sleep for days at a time, Lapsing instead into a prolonged tiredness.

Most clients are young heroin addicts, according to Blackburn, and the trend appears to be accelerating. One such client, a 26-year-old graduate of an exclusive East Coast college with a degree in English, sits in the Hooper Lobby and Leafs through his GRE study books. "I'm trying to restore some semblance of order to my Life," he says. He plans to get a job as a cab driver before pursuing graduate school next year,

As record numbers of heroin addicts wave the white flag at Hooper, their unlucky counterparts are winding up across town -- at the county morgue. Heroin deaths have reached an all-time peak. "I can guarantee we're going to beat the record," says deputy medical examiner Gene Gray. There have been 136 confirmed heroin deaths this year, Gray says -- not counting the stack of reports he has yet to send nut to the toxicology lab. It's just another day in the waiting game.

Permission to post declined by W.W. editor at 2:20 P.M. on December 19, 1996 -- all rights reserved anyway!