Oregon Recovers, By The Numbers

An Oregon advocacy group is suggesting that we need to be tracking more than just overdoses.

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Studying addiction as a local or regional issue is important to understanding how Oregon can recover.

Data is a valuable asset, but it doesn’t necessarily give a complete picture of the national drug epidemic. Every year, SAMHSA releases its annual National Survey On Drug Use and Health (NSDUH). The study tracks substance use, mental health issues, and negative health outcomes in the populations it surveys. However, an Oregon advocacy group is suggesting that we need to be tracking more than just overdoses. NSDUH has never included questions related to the most positive outcome of having a substance use disorder—recovery from it.

The Alano Club of PortlandA recent op-ed by Brent Canode, Executive Director of the Alano Club of Portland and co-founder of recovery advocacy group Oregon Recovers, pointed out that recovery isn’t the absence of addiction. It’s the presence of wellness.

The op-ed, which appeared in STAT earlier this month, makes an important point about recovery, which is that it’s a real, possible outcome for some people with substance use disorder. “Losing sight of that can skew public policy and funding priorities to narrowly focus on preventing deaths instead of aiming more broadly to both reduce unnecessary deaths and promote long-term wellness,” Canode said. Robert Ashford, PhD, and another writer contributed to the op-ed.

To fill in the blind spot, Oregon Recovers will partner with Oregon’s state Public Health Division to measure recovery rates biannually. To do this, they’ll use the Adult Behavioral Risk Survey (BRFSS). This survey is done between states and the federal government, in collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is an ongoing data collection program designed to measure behavioral risk factors in the adult population. Health departments use the data for a variety of purposes, including identification of regional and demographic variations in health-related behaviors, targeting services, addressing critical health issues, proposing legislation for health initiatives, and measuring progress toward state and national health objectives.

BRFSS gathers uniform, state-specific data on preventive health practices and risk behaviors that are linked to chronic diseases, injuries, and preventable infectious diseases in the adult population. It isn’t perfect: data is collected over the phone, and excludes populations that are under 18 or homeless. However, according to the 2000 Census, 98.4 % of Oregon households have telephones, which means that the state is an excellent fit for this method of survey. The big win is adding recovery outcomes: a significant step toward refocusing anti-addiction efforts on recovery instead.

Oregon Recovers was created in response to Oregon’s place as last in the nation for access to recovery services. Although substance use is not a new problem in Oregon, it was recently declared a public health crisis thanks to the efforts of recovery advocates. Oregon Governor Kate Brown signed an executive order that declared addiction a public health crisis. Studying addiction as a local or regional issue is important to understanding how Oregon can recover.

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