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Phoenix Program Inc. helps the addicted

Drug abuse costs our nation upward of $600 billion annually. This drug dependency can result in high health care costs, decreased work productivity and increased crime, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Although the financial figures and economic implications are daunting, rehabilitation resources such as Phoenix Programs Inc. in Columbia work to transform the core issue — the people living with addictions.

A new era

Phoenix Programs Inc. began about 40 years ago as a refuge for homeless adult alcoholic men. In the past the organization has moved, grown from one house to another and now has found a home that can house all of its services. Instead of its previous multi-site operation, Phoenix Programs now houses its services at 90 E. Leslie Lane.

“We moved from an out-of-sight agency to outspoken advocacy just a few years ago,” says Heather Harlan, a certified reciprocal prevention specialist.

Community involvement and family services connect the organization to not only the people it serves in treatment but also the people affected by their addictions. The services offered include family groups that consist of counseling for loved ones.

The reality is that everyone needs to change somewhat because the situation has taken a toll on everyone in the family, Harlan says. Everyone involved needs new means of fighting the addiction and its effects. For the person being treated, this may include education groups aimed at far-reaching topics: Relapse prevention, yoga and mindfulness geared for triggers and cravings are a few.

But the primary aspect of recovery involves the individual’s sessions with a counselor. “This is the backbone where the person gets to customize their treatment,” Harlan says. “We want people to set their own goals, and this drives treatment.”

One person may struggle with anger management while another hopes to communicate more effectively with family members. These sessions allow tailored treatment to address the problems of each person directly and specifically.

Set apart

Phoenix focuses on evidence-based treatment. This differs from the well-known 12 step programs popular in Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous. Although Harlan says Phoenix has great respect for this effective community support, she says it isn’t known how effective these models are for treatment itself. Straying away from a calendar-driven approach allows for a focus on the specific needs of the person. Some may need less than two weeks; others may need more than four weeks.

The organization recognizes and treats addiction like a chronic health condition. Just like treatments for diabetes, hypertension or asthma are researched and executed, Phoenix bases its treatment models for addiction on proven research.

Phoenix staff members can truly say they understand the people who come into their facility and are desperate for help. All employees are either in recovery or have been impacted by drug abuse with someone in their life. “We’re definitely passionate,” Harlan says. “You don’t get rich going into this field.”

In addition, the facility transitioned to a smoke-free environment in 2009; it’s one of few centers in Missouri to do this.

“It’s sad to see someone who may have conquered a cocaine addition who dies of emphysema from smoking,” Harlan says.

Beyond their facilities, Phoenix Programs has also targeted a unique demographic: adolescents. In the state of Missouri, approximately 52,000 adolescents reported using an illicit drug in the past month, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Adolescents include a person between the ages of 12 and 17.

In a time when the human brain is still developing, adolescents can be physically vulnerable to the effects of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs. Families play a crucial role in beginning and supporting treatment for adolescents, which Phoenix sees as an essential part of treatment.

“Getting parents on board is huge,” Harlan says. “A lot of parents don’t want children using drugs, but if they would show up at dinner or not be irritable, even that can help treatment be more effective.”

A phone call away

A visit to the Phoenix Programs website leads its viewer to a bold phone number, urging to call. Waiting until a person is acute in his or her addiction leads to decrease in quality of life, so Phoenix emphasizes that loved ones and those affected should call for a free evaluation.

Phoenix Programs Inc. sees doctors come through the door, along with lawyers and prominent business people in the community. Drug abuse affects countless people in Columbia.

Harlan urges people to steer clear of common myths associated with treatment. These include that people have to go away to rehab or that they have to hit rock bottom before considering treatment, she says. Many people in treatment have families and are involved in outpatient services. Phoenix also encourages veterans to come forward and has programs in place specifically tailored to their needs.

An economic decision

Although some insurance companies contribute well to drug treatment programs, others do not, and people end up paying out of pocket. Phoenix gives free consultations and emphasizes that people contact them to find out what resources are available.

Both the insurance companies and the program’s prices are listed on the organization’s website, along with its phone number and other resources. Beyond this aspect, Phoenix Programs Inc. encourages employers to seek their services as well. Harlan says that in many cases, it is less expensive to help an employee seek treatment before a situation becomes more serious than firing and training new employees. The “wear and tear” on employees who might have a family member with a dependency issue may also be a concern for the employer.

Phoenix goes into businesses, has smoking cessation classes and utilizes surveys in high schools to see what’s effective. The center is working toward a CARF certification (Commission on the Accreditation for Rehabilitation Facilities). CARF is an independent, nonprofit accreditor of health and human services and sets internationally high standards for nonprofits to establish documented policies and procedures.

To contact Phoenix Programs Inc., call 573-875-8880.

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