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‘Step-Down’ Substance Abuse Services Highlighted In Johnson County

Andy Marso
Heartland Health Monitor

Pat George opened a renovated substance abuse facility Monday in Overland Park as the president and CEO of Valley Hope addiction services and a recovering alcoholic himself.

George quit drinking decades ago and has since served in the Kansas Legislature and as Gov. Sam Brownback’s commerce secretary. But he said his addiction to alcohol almost killed him before he checked into a Valley Hope treatment center in 1991.

“Nearly 24 years later, I’m clean and sober here today, and I’m not bashful to say Valley Hope saved my life,” George said.

George was flanked by U.S. Rep. Kevin Yoder when he cut the ribbon on an outpatient treatment center. State officials say the “step down” services the center will help keep recovering addicts on course after they leave inpatient institutions.

Valley Hope, which has 16 centers in seven states, previously had a small facility in Mission that operated out of a former residential home.

But George said the need for services had outstripped the ability to provide them there.

About $1 million in renovations went into the new building in Overland Park and an adjoining tech center that Valley Hope uses to operate an online therapy program that’s also part of its outpatient offerings.

“That’s very much a growing and growing segment, especially with our younger population,” George said. “That’s how they do life, is online.”

Sarah Fischer, prevention program director at the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services, said substance abuse is a “leading cause of disease and death in Kansas.”

In addition to direct health effects, Fischer said addiction to drugs and alcohol causes car crashes, loss of work and out-of-home foster care placements.

“The impact of substance use disorder is staggering and expansive,” she said.

Fischer said about 175,000 Kansans age 12 or older abused alcohol in 2014 and 43,000 abused illicit drugs.

About 12,940 Kansans entered treatment in fiscal year 2015.

“However, consumption data indicates there are many more who need treatment,” she said.

In the Kansas City metropolitan area, Fischer said, about 13 percent of those in treatment were homeless and 33 percent also were being treated for a mental health disorder.

Almost half of those being treated in the Kansas City area were struggling with alcohol abuse, but Fischer said the number enrolled for methamphetamine treatment is rising at the fastest rate.

Yoder, a Republican who represents the Kansas City area, noted that increasing prescription drug abuse has gained Congress’ attention and the U.S. House of Representatives has passed a budget that provides $50 million in additional funds for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to combat the problem.

George said addiction treatment experts are increasingly emphasizing outpatient services in the addiction fight.

Rather than treating addiction similar to a surgical procedure in which the patient is hospitalized for a set period of time and then released, he said it’s important to think of it as a “life management process.”

Two to four weeks of inpatient addiction treatment should be followed be an intensive outpatient program that involves three or four hours of therapy per day to prevent relapse, George said. 

That’s the kind of service Valley Hope will provide in Overland Park.

After completing that program, George said, addicts should continue with a less intensive program like Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous, which have helped him stay on track to this day.

“I’m still involved 24 years later,” George said. “The whole thing about the outpatient is, it’s part of a continuum of care.”

Valley Hope has been providing inpatient and outpatient care for almost 50 years. The nonprofit currently takes no public dollars, but George said it’s on the verge of starting a Medicaid pilot program because the need is great among that population.

George said his father, also an alcoholic, was patient No. 84 at Valley Center, which has now served many thousands. He told a crowd of about 50 employees, legislators and local dignitaries that he followed his father’s path to treatment decades later — a decision he described as an answer to his distraught mother’s prayers.

He had sent her a dozen roses for Mother’s Day and later found out she took them straight to her church.

“(She) laid them on the altar and said, ‘Lord, he’s all yours,” George said. “‘My son Pat is dying before my eyes and I don’t know what to do.’”

Andy Marso is a reporter for KHI News Service in Topeka, a partner in the Heartland Health Monitor team.




Andy Marso is a reporter for KCUR 89.3 and the Kansas News Service based in Topeka.
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