Drug dealers rarely are addicted to cocaine or heroin, according to Barry Wilen, executive director of Alcohol and Drug Recovery. They're hooked on fine clothes, fast cars and thick billfolds, he said.
That's why his agency, a private outpatient center that treats 500 alcohol and drug abusers a year, has started a 26-week program designed to treat the drug dealer's special addiction.
The program tries to get drug dealers to recognize how their products destroy lives and to channel their energy in other directions.
Mr. Wilen said he and Dr. Daniel Berman, the clinical director of Alcohol and Drug Recovery (ADR), designed the program after realizing that putting dealers and drug addicts in the same treatment programs presented problems.
"It was like mixing oil and water," Mr. Wilen said. The drug dealers didn't want to be in therapy and the addicts were reluctant to open up in the presence of the dealers, he said.
Parole and probation officers, who refer many of their charges to the center's care, noticed the same problem. At an open house last December at a new ADR center in Waldorf, Charles County, a probation officer rhetorically asked if there was some way to separate the two groups.
On the way back to ADR's main office in Parole, Dr. Berman repeated the question.
Mr. Wilen and Dr. Berman began talking to parole and probation officers and defense attorneys, all of whom liked the idea of a program for drug dealers, so they set to work.
Alan R. Friedman, Anne Arundel's chief public defender, said he hadn't heard of it until a reporter called him, but it "sounds great."
"Anything that is tailored to these kinds of problems has got to be good," he said. "The more creative you get with treatment programs, the better."
But Michael Bergeson, head of the narcotics unit for the state's attorney's office, was not enthusiastic. He said he did not think dealers who were not addicted to drugs needed treatment.
"You can't make a blanket statement and say that everybody involved in drugs needs treatment. It's not true," Mr. Bergeson said.
Mr. Wilen said he believes that dealers also have an addiction and that people should be able to understand that, even if they don't condone it.
"If you were making $100,000 a year and you lost your job and the only job you could get is bagging groceries, you wouldn't be happy with your lifestyle either," he said.
Part of the program focuses on vocational training. It is not designed to find jobs, Mr. Wilen said, but to assess dealers' skills and point them toward the jobs for which they are most suited.
As a group, the dealers tend to be more intelligent than addicts, he said: They have high school diplomas and "the ability to make something of their lives other than drug dealing."
The dealers, all from Annapolis and assigned by their parole or probation officers, meet once a week for 90-minute sessions, Mr. Wilen said. He would not allow a reporter to interview them because he said he still is trying to gain their trust.
The counselors try to get the dealers to look for reasons to change their behavior, Mr. Wilen said. He described a session last week in which the dealers discussed how children looked up to them.
"One of them said that was the worst part of what they're doing: little kids looking up to them," he said. "Some of them have a soft side."
The sessions cost $35 each. That is at the low end of ADR's fees, which are usually determined by income.
"I wanted to start at the low end to get the program going," Mr. Wilen said. "I would like ADR to do its part to further the eradication of drugs. Treatment works, and we're going to prove that it can work in another area."