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Drug treatment tough to find for D.C.ís 'good kids'

(Published April 5, 1999)

LUTISHIA PHILLIPS

Staff Writer

Few programs exist in the District to help D.C. teenagers who want to kick a drug abuse problem, and the chances of finding help appear to increase only slightly if they run afoul of the law.

While most of the cityís youth-directed anti-drug programs are aimed at preventing drug abuse, recent studies estimate as many as 7,100 D.C. youngsters may already be beyond the stage of being able to "just say no."

Although thousands of young people in the District need treatment for drug addiction, there are only 3,700 treatment spots available to patients of all ages in the city, recent studies show.

According to one survey, 40 clinics in the District provide drug and alcohol abuse treatment but less than half accept patients under 18.

In fact, the District agency responsible for overseeing drug treatment says thereís no comprehensive list available of treatment programs specifically for youth. Alexis Parker, a spokesman for the D.C. Addiction Prevention and Recovery Administration (APRA), said she knows of only one treatment facility for youth, a clinic in Northwest Washington called Riverside.

Some local teens are seeking help beyond the D.C. line. An employee at the University of Maryland College Park Alcohol and Substance Abuse Program said the clinicís clients include a "steady flow" of D.C. youths.

But at the same time, city programs that do exist suffer from chronic under-enrollment. According to the D.C. Metro Treatment Capacity Study, conducted for APRA in February, four clinics that offer youth services are only 10 percent filled.

And few seem to know those centers exist.

A nurse at D.C. General Hospital described at a recent health conference the young people she sees daily in the emergency room, many suffering from stab wounds, gunshot wounds inflicted and received because of drug abuse.

"I want to know where I can send these kids," she said in frustration. "Thereís only so much I can do."

Mayor Anthony A. Williamsí proposed $70 million health care initiative for fiscal 2000 would provide insurance coverage for 100,000 D.C. residents for substance abuse treatment. The plan includes those currently without insurance and others whose current coverage doesnít include substance abuse.

Leslie Pinkston, an aide to Williams, said the mayor is aware of the lack of drug treatment centers for youth in the District. However, the mayorís plan does not address specific needs for young people.

While there may be a dearth of treatment options for young people, prevention programs for juveniles seem plentiful.

April 5, for example, is "Substance Abuse Awareness Day" in the grand ballroom of the Washington Court Hotel in Northwest Washington. The APRA-sponsored luncheon program includes workshops, seminars and entertainment by gospel musicians.

The District also boasts dozens of public hearings, studies, roundtables and health conferences on drug abuse prevention.

The problem is, most existing programs deal only with drug prevention counseling, through peer groups and rap sessions, said Calvin Woodland Jr., director of constituent services for Councilman Jim Graham, D-Ward 1. "Prevention groups are not effective," he said.

When it comes to helping those who already have a problem, resources are scarce, unless youíve got a criminal record, he said.

Most centers in the District deal with juveniles already in the legal system, Woodland said. Those programs are usually in the same neighborhoods and end up duplicating services.

"Why do we have to go through all these hearings and a million studies to find out that we need these facilities?" said Woodland, who has worked for seven years with adult treatment programs. He said itís really difficult finding staff capable of dealing with the emotional costs of addiction. The turnover rate among staff, he said, is enormous.

He added many youth treatment workers fear the very kids they are trying to help.

Woodland blames substance abuse for many of the Districtís deepest problems, such as homelessness, crime and vagrancy.

Copyright 1999, The Common Denominator