Water tests show drug use is everywhere

It's no surprise there is widespread use of illicit drugs in Oregon. Approximately one in every 10 Oregonians reports using illicit drugs each month, and more than 83,000 people suffer from drug abuse or dependence.

We know that over the past 15 years, methamphetamine use has hit the entire state. And other serious drugs are all too common, based on data gathered through surveys, treatment and mortality rates.

The study was conducted by scientists from Oregon State University, the University of Washington and McGill University. The team tested untreated wastewater from 96 Oregon wastewater treatment facilities located all over the state. Each municipality voluntarily participated and collected the samples on the same day. The study represents 65 percent of the state's population.

Methamphetamine and all the destruction it brings to families and communities remains the drug of choice for Oregonians. Measurable amounts showed up in 100 percent of the tests. No community was immune and there is no urban-rural divide. You are as likely to find methamphetamine in the wastewater in Hermiston as in Portland.

Cocaine was found in 80 percent of the samples and ecstasy in nearly half. Both were primarily detected in larger urban areas like Eugene, Salem and Bend, but not exclusively. For example, wastewater in smaller municipalities such as Port Orford and Hermiston uncovered high levels of ecstasy, a psychedelic drug similar to methamphetamine.

As this study illustrates, drugs are no longer just a problem for the big cities. The smallest of towns also are struggling with addiction and the issue reaches beyond individuals to the family, workplace and community. Untreated substance abuse costs Oregonians $5.93 billion every year.

This is a cost we can avoid. If we can catch people before they get addicted through prevention programs, we reap $10 in benefit for every dollar invested.

In addition, addiction-treatment programs offer similar cost savings. For every dollar invested in treatment, there are $7 of benefit to the community, largely due to reduced crime costs and increased employer earnings. Treatment and recovery-support services are as effective as treatments for other diseases such as asthma or diabetes.

Please remember, addiction is a long-term illness but treatment works. This recent study shows just how far Oregon has to go to prevent and treat addictions and to address the accompanying social costs. The good news is, we know what works to help heal our communities, and hopefully in the future we do a better job at passing the test. If you or someone you know has a substance abuse problem log on to www.oregon.gov/DHS/crisis.shtml for intervention help and service referrals.

Karen Wheeler is administrator of addiction programs for the Oregon Department of Human Services.

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