Monday, April 14, 2008

Recovering The Oxford House

Community homes for recovering drug and alcohol addicts are revived after a DePaul study proves their worth

A five-year study by DePaul�s Center for Community Research made Illinois lawmakers take notice. They recently passed funding for the multiplication of non-institutional, democratically self-governing substance abuse rehabilitation centers known as Oxford Houses.

The new funding was a product of the Illinois Department of Human Services, Division of Alcohol and Substance Abuse (DASA). The grant provides for the opening of four new Illinois Oxford Houses this spring among the 11 new homes DASA hopes to subsidize by the end of the year. The creation of up to 20 new Oxford Houses annually across the state is the goal of DASA beyond 2008.

The Study's Results

The Center for Community Research, headed by DePaul professor of psychology Dr. Leonard A. Jason, has advocated the liberal approach of the Oxford House system. Its research on the system was heavily considered by DASA and was cited by the government department in support for the new funds.

"[The Center for Community Research] did a study which indicated that if you provided these types of support and care after people have been in treatment for substance abuse, you could get about twice as many people to stay sober over a two year period of time," Jason said.

Jason worked alongside DePaul colleague and fellow-psychology professor Dr. Joseph Ferrari among others, including Northwestern professor of research Brad D. Olson, in studying the effects of the Oxford House democratic rehab method.

The two studies released by the group in 2006 showed drug abstinence rates of 65 to 87 percent among recovering addicts who lived communally in the self-supporting Oxford House system. The results bucked prior notions that a majority of recovering substance users relapsed after treatment.

Jason�s reasoning is simple. "If you have someone who is dealing with substances and drugs and then they get released back to the same family and neighborhoods that might have high levels of substance abuse and you don�t provide them any types of support, the likelihood is that many of those people will relapse," he said. "If you provide housing, opportunities for employment, peer support�you can reduce that rate by half."

Ferrari, a Vincent DePaul Distinguished Professor, credited the Oxford House system�s success to the reality that "a sense of home is very important for people" and that the method respects the "individuality and dignity" of each person who lives in an Oxford House.

Resident Turned Landlord

Stephanie Marez is a shining example of the system�s benefits. After bouncing from treatment center to treatment center for her alcohol abuse, Marez spent just under a year as an Oxford House resident in 2004.

"It worked itself out to be the best thing that ever happened to me," she said. "Who better to understand an addict than another addict?"

After moving out of her Oxford House clean about three years ago, Marez now serves on the State Board of Illinois for Oxford Houses while working at DePaul on a study of ex-drug offenders� post-treatment options. She is also the landlord of an Oxford House and trains new residents in particular positions they will hold in their house.

Shaping Reform

This recent expansion of funding is not the first time that Oxford Houses have been subsidized by the Illinois government.

According to Ferrari, state governments were federally mandated to provide $100,000 in annual funding for Oxford Houses throughout the 1990s, a small price to pay for effective substance abuse recovery. By 2003, however, DASA discontinued the funding based on a lack of data supporting the Oxford House system.

"There was no data to show that it did not work," said Ferrari in reaction, who gives much credit to the DePaul study for the reinstatement. "We were able to show how cost-effective it is; these people are getting their own jobs and paying their own rent."

Ferrari insisted that the government�s bias towards the institutions it funds heavily such as hospitals and traditional rehabilitation centers was the real reason DASA cut funding for Oxford Houses.

"Oxford Houses are controversial because they are showing that people can take care of themselves. [Oxford House residents] don�t need the medical community."

Since residents must be employed, pay rent and work to pay off the initial government loans provided to each group home, Oxford Houses are, as Ferrari pointed out, an extremely cost-effective rehabilitation method.

"There are so many people that are incarcerated for nonviolent drug offenses, the prisons are just overcrowded. There is such a need for sober living and recovery homes," Marez said.

Jason indicated that the high abstinence rates of former addicts coming out of Oxford Houses contribute to the system�s public thrift. With a population of ex-offenders less prone to relapse, there is a lesser chance that the recovered will end up in prisons, hospitals or other publicly funded institutions in the future. Fewer relapses equal less taxpayer money.

Though it should not be viewed as an end, Marez believes that the new funding is "a step in the right direction." Ferrari is looking forward to the locations of the new houses, emphasizing that they are necessary in both urban and rural communities. Jason hopes the supportive research for Oxford Houses leads to a similar treatment of social outcasts including criminals and the homeless.

The Study and the Oxford House

The DePaul study was performed through interviews with Oxford House residents every six months for two years. After two years, Jason noted, most of the residents had left their Oxford House rehabilitated. Many of the interviews were done by DePaul students, graduate and undergraduate, while Jason and Ferrari directed the research, which took place between 2000 and 2005.

A network overseen by the nonprofit, publicly dependent corporation Oxford Houses, Inc., Oxford Houses are located across the United States as well as in countries such as Canada and Australia. Currently, there are 39 Oxford Houses in Illinois, including three in Chicago.

Each group home houses six to 15. An initial $5,000 loan is given to each house for furnishings and basic start-up costs.

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