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Minnesota trailing in addiction treatment, report says

GRANITE FALLS --Minnesota's reputation as a leader in the treatment of chemical dependency is turned on its head by a report authored this month by Carol Falkowski, director of the chemical health division of the Minnesota Department of Human Ser...

GRANITE FALLS --Minnesota's reputation as a leader in the treatment of chemical dependency is turned on its head by a report authored this month by Carol Falkowski, director of the chemical health division of the Minnesota Department of Human Services.

It found that Minnesota ranked third-to-last among states in the number of adults age 18 and over in treatment per 100,000 population.

Only Texas and Arkansas ranked lower.

Based on 2006 data, it found that Minnesota had an estimated 387,600 adults in need of chemical dependency treatment, but only seven percent received treatment.

The report doesn't come as a surprise to Michael Schiks, executive director of Project Turnabout in Granite Falls. He is calling attention to the report in hopes that it will serve as a "wake up call'' to the back sliding that he believes has occurred in Minnesota.

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Schiks has a 30-year work history in the field of substance abuse treatment, the majority of that with the Hazelden Foundation in Center City.

He attributes Minnesota's ranking to its cost containment policy. Schiks charges that the stigma associated with addictive illness contributes to what he calls a "culture of cost containment and cost shifting.''

The cost containment policy has made it more difficult for a large segment of the population- low wage workers who cannot afford insurance- to receive treatment, according to Schiks. People without private insurance coverage rely on a state safety net that continues to be lowered, he said.

An individual in need of care is not eligible for public help unless he or she makes less than $4.90 an hour, according to Schiks.

For those needing state help, the policy has costly consequences. Its practical effect is to keep people from getting help in the earlier stages of their addiction, according to Schiks. He likened it to withholding cancer treatment until the disease has progressed to stage four.

Anywhere from 30 to 40 percent of those receiving care at Project Turnabout are assisted by private insurance policies. The majority of patients receive some public support, which is largely administered by counties, he said.

Schiks said counties in this region are very much attuned to the value of chemical dependency treatment. "They get it,'' he said.

However, he said counties often find their hands tied by state policy. It has the effect of making the severity of an individual's illness the criteria that matters most.

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Addiction is a progressive disease, he pointed out. Delaying treatment only means that untreated addicts will show up in our courts, hospital emergency rooms or in traffic fatalities and unemployment statistics, he said.

Along with delaying help for many, Schiks said that he also worries that the cost containment policy leads to a self-selection process that keeps some from seeking treatment. When individuals in need of treatment- or their loved ones- learn they may not be eligible for financial help, they may not pursue it, he said.

Of course, he'd like to see more funding provided for chemical dependency care. Funds spent on treatment will ultimately save money, he said, pointing to the high costs that chemical dependency places on society. "Pay now or pay later,'' he said.

Most important of all, Schiks said that chemical dependency professionals in the state need to speak out and educate the public again about the importance of treatment. Public attitudes toward chemical dependency ultimately determine how we address the issue as a state, he said.

He sees reason for optimism, despite the findings of the report. He pointed to the recent move towards drug courts and growing awareness of chemical dependency issues in the criminal justice system.

The recent and much publicized deaths of college students due to alcohol have also led to a heightened public debate. He hopes that this too will help open eyes to the importance of education and providing help and treatment earlier, not later.

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