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April 26, 2004 - The Patriot Ledger (MA)

Addicts On Their Own

Inpatient Help for Young Drug Abusers, Especially Girls, Is Almost Nonexistent

By Casey Ross

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

Adolescent South Shore drug addicts, especially girls, are being refused inpatient treatment because drastically dwindling funds have left the region with just 10 available beds, none of them for females.

Even as arrest rates for heroin and other drugs among juveniles accelerate, there is just one residential program for teenagers on the South Shore, and that program, Project Rebound, off Squantum Street in Quincy, serves only boys. Parents of young women are told they must wait months for a bed at facilities in Falmouth, Attleboro and Lawrence.

"You expect to get help when you need it, but what you need doesn't exist," said Robyn, a Weymouth mother of a 17-year-old heroin addict who asked that her last name be withheld. "As a parent, I don't want to keep going through this. My daughter's life is unraveling." Despite warnings of a crisis from police and prosecutors, the state has cut spending on substance abuse treatment by 30 percent since the 2001-2002 fiscal year - from $48.3 million to $33.8 million this year - forcing some facilities to close and others to reduce services.

In the three programs statewide that accept teenage girls, there are fewer than 50 treatment beds and they are constantly full, officials said. Addicted teenagers can still get help through day programs and outpatient counseling, but treatment officials say teenagers using heroin and prescription drugs often require inpatient care.

"I'm very angry and very frustrated," said Earl Dandy, program director at Project Rebound, which is operated by Volunteers of America Massachusetts. "We get calls from kids, parents, clergy and schoolteachers, and we can't bring them in." Dandy said he has 22 treatment beds but can fill only 10 of them because of budget cuts. At full capacity, he said, Project Rebound could treat another 50 teenagers a year.

Meanwhile, law enforcement officials say addiction is becoming a crisis among South Shore teenagers because of easily available prescription drugs and potent heroin that costs as little as $4 a bag and can be snorted instead of injected. In Norfolk County, arrests of people under 21 on heroin-related charges have steadily increased in recent years, jumping from 19 in 1999 to 47 last year. Since the beginning of this year, more teenagers have been arrested on heroin charges ithan in all of 1998 and 1999 combined.

"It's very difficult, and what people have to realize is that people who don't get treatment end up in emergency rooms," said John McGahan, director of Cushing House, a 12-bed program for teenage boys in South Boston. "So ( taxpayers ) pay more for that than actual detoxification treatment." The Massachusetts Hospital Association says emergency substance abuse treatment has become a significant drain on the state's free care pool, which pays for treatment of people without health insurance.

"What we're hearing from our members is that this is becoming a big source of pressure on the free care pool and the emergency department setting," said Paul Wingle, a spokesman for the Hospital Association. "People under the influence of drugs or alcohol are tough patients to deal with." Gov. Mitt Romney has proposed slicing another $2 million from spending on substance abuse treatment in the budget year that begins July 1.

But state public health officials say the governor is redirecting money to other human service agencies to develop a more comprehensive network of substance abuse services They say the governor's budget proposal would increase overall spending on substance abuse treatment by $11.5 million by spreading resources to agencies like the Department of Youth Services.

"Substance abuse issues are exploding, and that begs the question how each of our respective systems can respond to that," said Michael Botticelli, assistant commissioner for the Bureau of Substance Abuse Services. "Given finite resources, we're trying to make sure we are providing as much access as we can." But treatment officials say access to the most vital services - inpatient treatment for teenagers with chronic addictions - is being denied in far too many cases.

Ray Tamasi, chief executive of Gosnold, a nonprofit that operates a treatment center in Falmouth with 10 beds for adolescent girls, said he expects to run out of state money this month. That leaves two months before more funds arrive. He said there remains a societal resistance to accepting substance abuse as a disease that requires treatment. Meanwhile, more people end up in jails and emergency rooms, he said. And more people die.

"There is overwhelming evidence of the efficacy of treatment," Tamasi said. "But that's a hard message to consistently get out there." Robyn, the Weymouth single mother, said she agreed to tell her daughter's story because she wants to help spread that message. She said her daughter grew up playing soccer and playing in the school band before her life took a turn when she started high school.

During the past three years, Robyn has battled against her daughter's addictions, which started with cigarettes and alcohol when she was 14. When the problems accelerated, with the abuse moving to prescription drugs, she started to look for help.

She searched for months but found nothing but waiting lists. Then she learned her daughter was using heroin and began to find needles. "I was so angry. I tried for so long and I couldn't find help," she said. When I found out she was using heroin it destroyed me. I feel right now there's not too much else I can do."

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