Traverse City News and Events

A Decade Later, Hindbaugh Looks At Addiction's Past, Future

By Ross Boissoneau | Nov. 29, 2019

It’s been a decade since Chris Hindbaugh (pictured above left) joined Addiction Treatment Services (ATS) of Traverse City, during which time he’s watched the opioid epidemic change the face of addiction and cut across virtually all demographics.

Now he hopes all the attention it has received will help change the ways addicts are treated. “The coverage has brought the issue out from the shadows,” he says.

He believes the system in place to treat addiction for decades fails on several counts. “The system is built to wait until you become an addict,” he says. He also believes the “so-called War on Drugs” has fed the narrative of addiction as a moral failure.

“A public health strategy is what’s needed,” he says, pushing a focus on three legs: prevention, treatment and aftercare.

And so comes the recent opening of the PORCH (Providing Opportunities for Recovery and Community Health), part treatment center, part social center, part health facility. Groups gather for social activities, such as watching Monday Night Football together in an alcohol- and drug-free setting.

“There’s not anything like it in the state,” Hindbaugh says of the facility on Eighth Street in TC. “It offer things you don’t normally associate with addiction,” such as yoga, acupuncture, a social environment, and a health clinic, in addition to treatments such as talk therapy. “It’s like a health club, with things that support wellness.”

The growth of ATS since Hindbaugh joined has proven there is a need. “In 2010, we served just over 1,000 people. Now we serve over 3,000 annually. We have grown from 70 beds to 115 between our ten properties in Traverse City. Our budget has grown from $1.9 million to $5.2 million.”

Yet he believes that is just the proverbial tip of the iceberg. “Most of this growth has to do with a population that has been underserved,” he continues, noting only ten percent of people who need services receive them. “We could continue to grow, but we think our mission should be to build programs that actually keep people out of needing our most acute levels of care, like detox and residential.”

While coverage of addiction has focused largely on opioids, Hindbaugh says that’s mostly because more people die from opioid addiction. But overall addiction rates have remained unchanged for the past 30-40 years. “Addiction rates have not moved. We’re not doing anything about it as a whole,” he says. And though opioids are the drug in the news, they are not the most abused substance. “Even with the opioid epidemic, half (of addictions) are still from alcohol. Alcohol is the most abused by far,” he notes.

ATS is not alone in the fight against addiction. Last year, Munson Medical Center received a three-year $1.5 million grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration that will allow it to develop a Community Opioid Recovery Expansion (CORE) program for the region.

And earlier this year, Dr. Phillip Coffin, director of substance use research for the San Francisco Department of Public Health, visited to present a program on the opioid epidemic in conjunction with Harm Reduction Michigan and Northern Lakes Community Mental Health Authority.

Hindbaugh says work on pain management and cracking down on the ease of acquiring opioids are both overdue. But he warns that addressing the symptoms rather than the cause will ultimately not fix the overall problem. “Rightfully we are locking down on providers, (working) on pain management. That’s great. But what can we do that will lift up the whole system?”

That’s where he says the focus needs to shift simply from treatment to prevention and aftercare, pointing to needs inside ATS to help. “First, we need to invest in our staff (monetarily, training, culture of caring, etc). We are so underfunded that it is tough to keep high quality staff.” He also hopes to develop an advocacy arm to increase visibility and funding and “influence the ecosystem at the local, state and federal level.” 

He says ATS has also prioritized expanding its services to include more interventions. “In other words, there are multiple pathways to recovery and we want to offer as many as we can to those we serve.”

Ultimately, he’d like to see the PORCH become self-sustaining and a model that could be replicated elsewhere.

“When that happens, we also think the model can be replicated in other communities, so we are building our current programs with this in mind. We think we have something to offer the broader region.”

PHOTO: Chris Hindbaugh, CEO; Matt Zerreli, PORCH manager; Madeline Begley, PORCH Coordinator

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