Medford resident Jillian Mahon knows firsthand that addiction affects not just the user, but the whole family.
"When you're in your addiction, the only thing you think about is the drug and getting the drug. When you have a child present, that's what they go through every day," Mahon said. "That kid gets dragged through the mud. That kid suffers everything that the parent is going through."
A new clinic in Medford called the Oasis Center is founded on the understanding that addiction is a multigenerational issue affecting both parents and kids.
Located at 1025 E. Main St., at the back of the Addictions Recovery Center, the Oasis Center will host an open house from 4:30 to 7 p.m. Friday.
The center's physician and co-founder, Dr. Kerri Hecox, provides primary care for pregnant women and parents in recovery, along with their kids. She can prescribe medication that eases cravings and withdrawal symptoms of opioids, which include heroin and pain pills such as OxyContin.
By providing primary care and not just addiction treatment, Hecox can establish relationships with families that last for years.
Hecox said most addiction treatment programs last for months, even though the risk of relapsing doesn’t go down significantly until a person has been in recovery for 2 to 5 years.
For parents with babies and young children, those high-risk years coincide with the most important developmental stage — the first 3 to 5 years of life. Children undergo enormous intellectual and emotional growth during that time.
But the chaos and unpredictability of parental addiction, coupled with abuse and neglect that often occurs, can cause damage that makes it hard for kids to trust others, pay attention in school and control their own behavior, Hecox said.
“Something that can happen in a short period of time can take years to correct,” she said of the harm to kids.
Although recovery from addiction is a long-term process, Hecox said many patients feel uncomfortable talking to their primary care doctors about their urges to use and the guilt and shame they feel about their substance abuse.
“What we’ve tried to do here is really create an environment where we know that’s an ongoing issue that you struggle with,” Hecox said.
She wants her patients to feel that talking about addiction is as natural as talking about diabetes, high blood pressure or other illnesses that have to be managed.
Mahon said she feels free to talk to Hecox about everything from her kids to the addiction treatment medication she’s on.
“It feels like I’m talking to a friend — somebody who actually cares and will take the time to find out what I’m going through and adjust things accordingly,” Mahon said.
Mahon said she continues to have feelings of guilt about her daughter who is in foster care.
“It’s taken a long time to regain her trust, but we’re getting there,” Mahon said. “I’m fighting for her to come home. But it’s a struggle. Sometimes she thinks that it’s her fault. And she fears that I’m going to go back out and I’m not going to be there. And that’s really hard for her.”
In addition to providing primary care, the Oasis Center is a place where parents can meet others going through the same struggles.
Hecox said when people stop using drugs, they also leave behind their whole social network. People in recovery can feel isolated and lonely.
“It wasn’t a healthy social network, but it was people they knew,” she said.
Some parents don’t feel comfortable going to typical family events like reading time at the library, she said.
“They feel very self-conscious, like, ‘These people are looking at me. They think I’m an addict.’ There’s that whole internal dialogue that people are battling when they’re re-entering society,” Hecox said.
While many people in recovery bond with new friends by attending groups like Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, parents of babies and small children often can’t go because they don’t have a babysitter, she said.
The Oasis Center has a family play room, a relaxation room for stressed-out parents and classes for parents and kids offered by community organizations, including the Family Nurturing Center.
The Oasis Center helps coordinate competing demands so busy parents stay on track and don’t miss their appointments with probation officers, child welfare workers and others. Some parents can qualify for child care subsidies.
The Southern Oregon Early Learning Hub in Medford is helping out by providing child care funding.
“Children don’t exist on their own. They’re nested within families. If we want to make an impact on children, we need to focus on the two-generation approach,” said Rene Brandon, director of the hub.
Research shows supporting families during early childhood improves kids’ third-grade reading abilities, improves chances of success in high school and reduces incarceration, Brandon said.
She said kids don’t automatically learn to control their own behavior just because they’re growing older. They need caring adults from infancy on to care for them and guide them.
Brandon said teachers are seeing unprecedented levels of out-of-control behavior in kindergarten and elementary school.
“We hear often about children throwing things, biting, hitting, not being able to play pro-socially, running out of the classroom and some more extreme behaviors like throwing chairs,” she said.
Brandon said one child had to be rushed to the emergency department by ambulance after punching a window.
Although multiple factors are at play in the escalating behavior, part of the problem is a lack of nurturing from drug-addicted parents, she said.
Interrupting the cycle by helping families will not only save money in the long run, it will give kids a chance to fulfill their potential, Brandon said.
The Oasis Center is running on a shoestring budget for now, but Hecox plans to gather data that she hopes will show the two-generational model is cost-effective and worthy of financial support.
“If this works, we’re not going to just see reductions in overdoses at the hospital. We’re going to see kids not going back into foster care and parents not going back into jail because they’ve established these healthy patterns,” she said.
As for Mahon, she hopes the Oasis Center can help other parents like her who are overcoming addiction.
“For a long time I was just existing in my life, and now I’m actually living my life,” she said. “And I get to enjoy my son and I get to be a good mom to my daughter again.”
More information about the Oasis Center is available by calling 541-200-1530 or visiting oasiscenterroguevalley.org.