With land for construction within its grasp, Carroll County has edged closer to building an in-patient drug treatment facility for teen-agers and young adults.
"We finally have found a piece of property that will work on the grounds of Springfield Hospital [Center]," said Jolene Sullivan, director of the county Department of Citizen Services. "We will be ready to go as soon as we get the lease."
The previous board of commissioners, concerned about an alarming increase in drug overdoses, promised to build a treatment facility more than three years ago. The county reviewed and rejected several sites before settling recently on a 10-acre parcel at the state hospital in Sykesville, a campus of about 500 acres.
Even under optimum conditions, it will be at least a year before the treatment center will be ready to accept patients, Sullivan said.
The county is surveying the parcel and negotiating a long-term lease with the two state agencies responsible for it. Officials said they do not foresee any stumbling blocks from the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, which has agreed to the county's proposal, or from the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, which owns the other portion of the land.
"We have a letter of intent of DHMH for a $1-a-year lease," said Ralph E. Green, director of the Department of General Services.
Plans call for a 10,000-square- foot, 24-bed center with room to expand. The state and county would share the cost, estimated at about $4 million. Carroll residents would be given priority for the beds, but surrounding counties and Baltimore City could send patients to the center should vacancies arise.
"The city and other counties have said they would be happy to work with us," said Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge.
While officials would not pinpoint the exact location of the center, Sullivan said, "It will have no impact on any community. It is tucked away on the hospital grounds."
The county rejected one possible location along Route 32 last year when neighbors complained about the proximity to their homes. Officials also had considered renovating a vacant hospital building, but that proposal proved too costly. As plans move forward, Sullivan said she would organize a public education meeting at the hospital.
"We are closer than we were three years ago," said Gouge.
Carroll County students are smoking, drinking and using drugs less than they did five years ago, according to a 2003 survey by the State Department of Education. But drug use is increasing among 19- to 25-year- olds.
The latest available numbers from Carroll Hospital Center show 56 heroin-related admissions in a two-month period last fall; most were young adults, said Mark Yount, substance abuse prevention coordinator for Carroll County. At least one death from drug overdose occurred, he said.
Commissioner Dean L. Minnich expressed impatience with the time-consuming process involved in opening a center.
"The seal of government should be a snail ridden by a lawyer," he said.