Experts in the substance abuse field have long suspected that women who are addicted to drugs or alcohol are not well served by conventional treatment programs, which traditionally have been targeted at men. Indeed, while there are now epidemic numbers of addicted and deformed babies born to women who use drugs and alcohol, only about 20 percent of the addicts in public substance abuse programs in Maryland are female.
One barrier keeping women from treatment is that historically more men have been addicts, and men are more readily identified through criminal activity or activities on the job. As a result, services in coed treatment programs are simply not tailored to the particular health, sexuality and employment concerns of women -- 80 to 90 percent of whom, in addition to their addiction problems, have been victims of rape or incest, few of whom have parenting skills and most of whom have no job skills or employment history. Perhaps the highest barrier, however, is that few treatment programs provide child care.
The issue of separate treatment for women will come into sharp focus Monday when the Baltimore County Council votes on a plan to set up an intensive outpatient treatment program designed for and staffed solely by women. The program, conceived by the county's Office of Substance Abuse and funded through a state grant, could open as early as next month offering treatment, vocational counseling and vouchers for child care to 30 women.
The facility is critical in the fight against substance abuse, not merely for the addicts it can help but also for their children -- most of whom are likely to become addicts themselves if their mothers don't get help. By approving the plan, council can focus long-needed attention on the special needs of female addicts and send a powerful message of support.