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Detox on $72 a Day : A Primer on Primary Purpose

July 26, 1990

Primary Purpose is a private, nonprofit organization in Oxnard. In addition to the detoxification center, it runs a 30-day residential program and "graduate" houses for further treatment.

Patients: In 20 months of operation, Primary Purpose detoxified 1,176 drug addicts and alcoholics, about 50 a month. Among the 116 in April and May, 61 were alcoholics; 18 were heroin addicts; 15 had dual heroin-cocaine addictions, and the rest had other combined addictions. Some patients are repeaters, although you can't go back within 90 days. "This is a disease of relapse," said Benny Owens Jeffreys, who coordinates volunteer workers.

Results: Overall figures aren't available. Director Dale McFadden estimates that among clients who complete detox, 30 days of treatment and a follow-up graduate program of 90 days or more, 75% stay sober at least a year. A Primary Purpose survey showed that 50% of those going through the 30-day program stayed sober a year. Mere detoxification is no guarantee of success. Detox coordinator Cathy Mullins says at least five of the 1,176 alumni are dead, including two suicides. Scores of other clients simply resumed bad habits.

Cost: $216 for three days, $360 for five, below that of medical treatment centers. Primary Purpose is non-medical, sending emergency patients to Ventura County Medical Center. Some patients pay or have insurance. Most are supported by state and county subsidies. Primary Purpose's annual budget is $800,000 for 25 employees at six sites, of which $180,000 is spent at the detox house, McFadden said. In the coming year officials expect a 5% increase in the county's $97,000 subsidy to the detox center and a 5% decrease in the $92,800 going to the 30-day program.

Need: Bob Hollins, the county official who monitors Primary Purpose's contract, said Ventura County could use 50 or 60 low-cost detox beds at various sites instead of 10 in Oxnard. "We need another detox really badly," said Waldi Holloway, Ventura County Medical Center's alcoholism specialist. She sent 19 patients to Primary Purpose for detoxification in June and could have sent 10 more.

Other options: More than a dozen other Ventura County facilities advertise drug and alcohol treatment and information. Authorities describe most as halfway houses and private, businesses with fees beyond the reach of the average addict. CPC Vista del Mar in Ventura, for instance, charges about $475 a day for three to five days of detoxification.

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