Owasso Rejects Youth Treatment Proposal

The residents of one Owasso community have unanimously voted against a proposition by the Palmer Drug Treatment Program to open a group drug treatment home in their neighborhood.  The residential facility would provide housing and assistance to non-violent adolescent males.

Though the proposed facility would have offered a “safe, secure and therapeutic environment” with a staff-to-client ratio of 13 staff members per 12-18 teens, the Owasso group cited safety concerns for themselves and their families as the primary reason for the negative vote.

But Paula Hall-Collins, Director of Development at Palmer, believes the residents may have been acting under the misconception that because participation in the Palmer Drug Treatment Program is voluntary, the teenagers are free to come and go as they please.

Not so, said Hall-Collins.  “This only means residents can’t be held against their will.  If a client wants to leave, they would not be able to just walk out the door – there are strict procedures in place,” she explained, adding that Palmer’s trained counselors would take the proper steps to notify that resident’s guardian or parent, and that the discharging clients would then be provided with proper transportation if they still wished to leave.

Hall-Collins said Palmer directors were confident that the proposed staff-to-client ratio was sufficient for adequate safety, and that the facility would be monitored at all times by a professional staff team that is “trained to bring escalating situations to a peaceful conclusion.”  She said the teens were non-violent and that most had no criminal background.

Dr. Ricky Sparks is the treatment supervisor at Christopher Youth Center, a residential youth treatment center similar to Palmer located in close proximity to neighboring communities.  He said there had been few complaints about safety issues at that facility.

“Last year, they only had one complaint from a neighbor, about one of the center’s teens breaking in over a fence,” he said, but added he felt this wasn’t an accurate accusation because “the teens are supervised, even when they are sleeping.”

Hall-Collins feels the treatment industry needs to focus on dispelling misconceptions about treatment facilities – and about the individuals who seek treatment, such as the stereotype that “everyone who seeks treatment is violent.”

“Often, these young men are early enough in their disease process that they have no criminal background or violent history and are still able to make positive changes,” she said.  “But if we continue not to treat these young people, the problem is eventually going to cost the state more to incarcerate them.”

According to research by the Governor’s Blue Ribbon Task Force, the cost to taxpayers is already astounding:  about $1,000 per Oklahoma resident will be spent in reference to all untreated substance abuse problems.  It is estimated that substance abuse directly costs Oklahomans $1.4 billion a year.

“Oklahoma is facing an escalating health and public policy crisis which, if not dealt with soon, will deepen in both intensity and gravity,“ the Task Force’s preamble states.  “It will continue to adversely and directly impact the state’s economy and, most importantly the lives of thousands of Oklahomans.”

Prevention and early intervention programs are at the top of the Task Force’s list of recommendations.  “Prevention and early intervention programs, along with appropriate treatment and recovery support services, must be made available to those in need,” it urges.  

Also, “non-violent persons who suffer from addiction should be identified and targeted as early as possible.  The Task Force stresses that the availability of these prevention and early intervention programs will significantly reduce the number of people with substance abuse or addiction problems and will consequently will reduce the number of these individuals being incarcerated, therefore saving direct cost to the state.”

The Task Force specifically states that, “At least 100-200 additional adolescent residential substance abuse treatment beds are needed to address current demand.”

The Palmer Drug Treatment Program has been in Tulsa since 1981 and now operates outpatient facilities in three locations throughout the city.  Serving about 300 youths each year, the outpatient facilities house 12-18 teens.  Additional Palmer operations include a school-based program offering drug prevention education in the Tulsa Public School system and the Tulsa Women’s and Children’s Services, a 52-bed residential facility for women needing substance abuse treatment who have children, or are trying to gain back custody and reunite with their children.

“Treatment centers are a much-needed service that will ultimately benefit Oklahoma and in the long run save taxpayer dollars and keep people safe,” said Hall-Collins.  “We need to educate people on how this process works.  These boys do assessments that state that they are willing to change their lives. These teens have to be willing, and many of them are.”

She said Palmer will continue to look for a location for the facility.  “People are wondering if we will continue to fight for the Owasso space.  It is not a fight for us.  We made a proposal to the state and they outlined the program – including all the intense treatment and schedules – and they approved it.  We did our homework.  Our proposal was accepted by the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Programs,” said Hall-Collins.  “It’s a shame, because the Owasso facility was perfect.  It had 20 bedrooms, a large group room and space for offices – they could have opened it soon and started much-needed treatment with these boys.”

For more information on the Palmer Drug Treatment Program Center, visit
www.palmer-tulsa.org/ and for more on the Governor’s Blue Ribbon Task Force Report, see www.odmhsas.org/.

Last Updated ( Monday, 29 January 2007 )