Study finds Durham’s TROSA saves North Carolina $7.5 million annually

Below news item published in the News & Observer:

BY ZACHERY EANES for the News & Observer

The services provided by Durham-based Triangle Residential Options for Substance Abusers (TROSA) save North Carolina millions of dollars annually, a new study from RTI International has found.

The independent study found the treatment center saves the state $7.5 million every year, mainly by preventing arrests, incarceration and emergency hospital visits.

RTI researchers looked at self-reported data from TROSA residents, including number of hospital visits and arrests in the year before entering the program. RTI also had 300 TROSA residents respond to an in-depth questionnaire.

The researchers used county estimates to determine average costs in six areas: emergency-room visits, outpatient doctor visits, arrests, probation/parole, incarceration and homelessness.

TROSA asked for the study to aid its fundraising.

“It certainly makes (our) argument easier to make whether it is presenting to the state, an individual or any philanthropic organization,” Chief Operating Officer Keith Artin said.

TROSA, a multi-year residential program founded in 1994, provides treatment, vocational and educational training to people struggling with substance abuse. About 500 participants live on the nonprofit’s James Street campus.

One in four people who enroll complete the two-year program, about the same completion rate as other drug-rehab programs, Artin said. The average length of stay is 12 months.

Of those who graduate, however, 95 percent maintain their sobriety and 85 percent found and retained employment one year after graduation, according to TROSA.

While at TROSA, residents also help run several of its businesses – which include a thrift store, moving service and annual Christmas tree sales – while undergoing treatment for addiction and training for careers.

The study, however, did not consider the financial benefits of residents’ future employment.

“While the savings are significant, our analysis was conservative,” said Alexander Cowell, a senior research economist at RTI. “TROSA’s savings to the state are likely even larger if you factor in the vocational training and education programs it provides.”

Getting help instead of jail time

Most of the money TROSA saved taxpayers was in helping potential inmates avoid prison time.

Of the $7.5 million in savings, $7 million of the savings came from reduced criminal-justice costs, which included arrests, jail time and probation.

Joshua Scruggs first heard about TROSA from a fellow inmate in prison. A methamphetamine user since he was 17, Scruggs was in and out of prison several times before he entered the program in 2011.

“I am 100 percent sure I would’ve made it back into jail or worse,” he said. “You don’t think about it during addiction, but you are costing the tax payer money all along the way.”

After graduating, Scruggs stayed on as a senior resident, eventually rising to crew leader and trainer for TROSA’s moving company.

“What really was beneficial to me was starting to train the younger guys that came in,” he said. “I could really see a lot of myself in these folks coming in.”

A former framer for a building company, Scruggs said making a career at TROSA has been an important step in his recovery. He’s getting married this July.

A changing population

The RTI study comes amid a growing opioid-addiction problem. N.C. Attorney General Josh Stein visited TROSA last month to talk about it.

In 2017, about 40 percent of the TROSA’s 500 residents are there because of an addiction to prescription opiates (painkillers) or heroin. It was only 15 percent in 2010.

Residents are getting younger, too. In the past two years, nearly all of TROSA’s growth has come from those under 35, while the older population has remained constant, Artin said.

Scruggs has noticed the change.

“Since I’ve been here there has been a huge turnover,” he said. “It used to be an older crowd, and now it is a much younger generation.”