Gary announces plan to reduce drug abuse and offer treatment $1.3 million proposal involves several agencies


County Executive John G. Gary has announced a $1.3 million proposal to step up drug prevention and treatment as a way to combat substance abuse problems that lead to crime.

He announced yesterday a three-prong approach of increased prevention, better treatment and tougher law enforcement that will involve more than a dozen government agencies in the county and Annapolis as well as private businesses. He wants to make 22 new hires in seven county offices as part of the effort.

Most of the $1.3 million proposed for the first year -- and the $2.5 million he has proposed be spent annually thereafter -- would pay for treating drug or alcohol addicts at hospitals and private rehabilitation facilities.

State health department statistics show that 24,000 county residents need substance abuse treatment, said Maren P. Hagberg, director of addictions services in the county Health Department.

"After several years of confronting this issue in our workplace and community, I decided that local government must become a part of the effort to reduce drug and alcohol abuse and thus help improve the quality of life in our county," Gary said at a news conference at the Arundel Center. "Treatment does work, and it's the most cost effective manner to deal with substance abuse."

Money for the program was taken from this year's $12 million surplus savings, Gary said, but the County Council must vote to appropriate the funds needed for the drug initiative. Gary will introduce the proposal to the council Dec. 15, spokeswoman Lisa Ritter said. If approved, the program could begin in the spring.

The county Health Department, which would get most of the funds, will be involved in nearly every aspect of the program.

A health assessor will work with the detention center pretrial services to screen defendants for substance abuse and mental health when they first appear before a judge, then will recommend programs. The Health Department will pay for treatment when the defendant cannot afford it.

The proposal also offers circuit and district court judges alternatives in sentencing that will allow defendants to maintain jobs or finish their education.

Other highlights include:

Expanding the DARE program, now in county elementary schools, to middle schools where police officers will reach about 5,000 more students yearly.

Training for school workers, EMS/Fire/Rescue personnel, and employers in private industry to help them recognize signs of drug use.

Increasing contracts with private hospitals and rehabilitation homes to provide care for those dealing with substance abuse.

Job training for those who have successfully completed drug programs.

Reorganizing police to strengthen the narcotics unit, and adding a drug dog.

Increasing police focus on the flow of drugs by working with managers of hotels, courier companies, and rental car companies.

Linking police with the Coast Guard and the Department of Natural Resources for intervention in the drug trade on county waterways.

Dr. Charlestine Fairley, director of prevention services with the county Health Department, will coordinate the project.

"I welcome this opportunity because this is addressing the way one is supposed to approach the drug problem," Fairley said. "We know the extent of the problem -- it is severe. The question has been do we have the courage to do what needs to be done? Mr. Gary has demonstrated that he is a leader of courage and that he is willing to take the risk."

Pub Date: 12/02/97

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