Balto. Co. program offers free help with substance abuse


Skeeter Huttenberger knew he had a drinking problem. But he thought he could handle it -- until the blackouts began.

Realizing he needed help, the Sparks resident decided to enroll in a substance-abuse inpatient program.

His employer, United Parcel Service, was more than willing to provide him the time off to receive treatment, he said. What his company's benefits package didn't provide was money for the treatment.

Luckily for Huttenberger, Baltimore County's Office of Substance Abuse had just begun a program to provide access to treatment programs for those who could not afford them, or whose insurance would not cover them.

"This was a big help," Huttenberger said. "This was a tremendous help. Sheppard Pratt is an expensive hospital. It cost close to $20,000 to go there. No one has $20,000. I know I certainly don't have that type of money."

Now entering its second year, the county's Treatment Access Program has evaluated more than 100 people and referred them for help. Fifteen facilities donated beds or services worth a total of $545,000 from October 1989 to October 1990. Currently, all five inpatient beds are filled.

The program provides inpatient, intensive outpatient and outpatient services free of charge.

Intensive outpatient involves counseling at least five nights a week for at least three or four hours a session. On the two remaining nights of the week, patients must attend Narcotics Anonymous or Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.

Outpatient services require counseling only once a week.

Donors included Sheppard Pratt, which provided 12 beds at $16,000 a bed; Changing Point, which donated eight beds at $11,000 a bed; and Mountain Manor, which gave seven beds at $10,500.

"This has just been fantastic," said Michael E. Gimbel, coordinator of the county's substance-abuse office. "This program will help people who might never have been able to afford this type of treatment."

Huttenberger, the first to go through the program, spent 35 days as an inpatient at Sheppard Pratt in Towson.

"I didn't realize I even had a problem until I got a DWI [driving while intoxicated citation] in June [1989]," Huttenberger said. "Up until then, I thought everything was fine. I was 23, 24. I thought it was the thing to do. You go out, and drink and party."

After receiving the DWI citation, Huttenberger said, he attempted to treat himself by switching to non-alcoholic beer. He soon found himself drinking one non-alcoholic beer and one regular beer.

On July 4, 1989, Huttenberger said, he went out and "tied one on." He knew he needed help.

After a few months of outpatient treatment and therapy through his company's employee-assistance program, Huttenberger decided to try inpatient treatment.

It wasn't easy, and there were times in the beginning when he considered leaving, Huttenberger recounted. His days were filled with counseling sessions, and he said he was kept occupied from the time he got up at 7 a.m. until he went to bed at 9 p.m.

But, after adjusting to the hospital's schedule and food -- he put on 30 pounds during his stay -- Huttenberger found that the counseling was just what he needed.

"It really helped me a lot to get into the program," he said. "It makes you take a look at yourself. I'm trying to live life to a better purpose. I feel better about myself. I think that's a change in itself."

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