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County vote signals reopening of substance abuse treatment center

by Amy Kingsley

A detoxification center on Wendover Avenue that closed earlier this year is going to be reincarnated as a facility for the long-term treatment of uninsured substance abusers scheduled to open in October 2007.

The county commission voted unanimously on Nov. 28 to support the project, which will provide beds and treatment for men and women who could not otherwise afford it.

The non-profit Alcohol and Drug Services operated the detoxification facility, which closed last spring because too few of the beds were occupied. Addicts in need of medically supervised detoxification, including those who use opiates or alcohol, have been diverted to area hospitals since then.

The county commission is planning to build a new, larger jail to replace overcrowded facilities. The prospect of building that multimillion-dollar facility prompted some commissioners to consider alternative programs designed to prevent incarceration, like drug treatment. County Commissioner Bruce Davis said early estimates indicated running the center would cost the county about $1 million annually.

“If we’re going to build a new jail it just sort of makes sense,” said Paul Gibson, chair of the county commission.

Officials are still working out the details, like who will run the facility and how long the treatment program will last. The county commission has requested proposals from private groups interested in running the facility.

“You get a lot of different definitions of what is long-term treatment,” said Wally Harrelson, the public defender for Guilford County.

Harrelson, who was a major proponent of the long-term treatment facility, said the county once had a facility that offered detoxification followed by 28 days of inpatient treatment. He advocates resurrecting that model, then following the month of treatment with longer stays in halfway houses and outpatient treatment.

Gibson said the new facility might provide inpatient treatment for as long as a year. One model the county has looked at for the treatment facility is Triangle Residential Options for Substance Abusers, or TROSA, Gibson said. TROSA patients spend at least 18 months in the Durham facility receiving treatment, vocational training and education.

In addition to the Wendover Avenue facility, which will serve indigent patients, the commissioners proposed adding drug treatment facilities to the new jail.

“With the jail you’ve got that sort of captive audience,” Gibson said.

The need for such facilities is great, Harrelson said. The public defenders office handled about 8,000 cases last year, and 75 percent of their clients said they abused alcohol or other drugs. In addition, 75 percent of their clients’ charges were drug-related.

The Guilford Center, the public mental health treatment facility in Guilford County, has studied the prevalence of substance abuse in the county and determined that 66 out of 1,000 individuals are affected. Treatment is only reaching 6.4 out of those 66, according to spokeswoman Penny Casto.

“A lot of these people are in and out of jail,” Davis said. “It only makes sense that we try to stop some of this behavior.”

State and national programs provide some funding for drug and alcohol treatment, but most of those monies are directed at specific populations, like mothers and juveniles. To attack the broader problem of substance abuse in Guilford County, the commission had to come up with tax money to fund long-term treatment options.

“We had a unanimous vote on moving forward on this,” Davis said. “That indicates a strong commitment.”

Gibson said the facility is one small part of what needs to be a comprehensive solution to Guilford County’s substance abuse woes. The county still lacks facilities for juveniles who cannot afford private treatment.

“Substance abuse touches every family in the county,” Gibson said. “This is an issue that crosses party lines.”

To comment on this story, e-mail Amy Kingsley at amy@yesweekly.com

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