Gaps Seen in Md. Drug Treatment

By Rosalind S. Helderman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 19, 2008

A recent report commissioned by the Maryland General Assembly has concluded that state services for drug addicts and alcoholics falls far short of the need, a problem it says is most profound in Prince George's County.

The report comes as new figures show that several counties, including Prince George's, regularly return hundreds of thousands of dollars in unspent substance abuse treatment funds to the state.

According to the report, which was compiled by University of Maryland researchers working in conjunction with a Harvard Medical School professor, the state would have to admit 14,423 more people into public or private drug treatment programs each year to meet the need. In Prince George's alone, 4,606 more people each year need treatment than receive it. A gap exists in other area counties too -- Montgomery needs 2,950 more treatment admissions annually, and Anne Arundel needs 755.

Researchers examined indicators of drug use, including drug arrests, mortality rates and hospital discharges, to produce an estimate of need in each county. They then compared those rates with the number of treatment admissions each year.

The gap in Prince George's occurred not because researchers found more drug use there -- the county ranked third from the bottom in the researcher's analysis of total need. Instead, they found that Prince George's admits the fewest people for substance abuse treatment per 100,000 residents of any Maryland county, treating far fewer people than they estimated need help.

Their analysis showed that 1,078 substance abuse admissions were needed each year per 100,000 residents in the county; instead, Prince George's had 524.

"We don't have enough trained drug counselors," said Del. Justin D. Ross (D-Prince George's), one sponsor of legislation that produced the report. "We don't have enough treatment beds. When people finally hit their knees and want to go get help, you can't tell them there's a waiting list."

Donald Shell, health officer for Prince George's, said the county has 29 inpatient beds that treat 280 substance abusers each year.

It pays for 14 more beds for 150 county patients in surrounding counties, but he acknowledged that the number is below need.

"It's ridiculously low," Shell said. "We've got work to do."

He noted that Prince George's has far fewer doctors than other counties, which means fewer referrals to treatment facilities, shrinking the market for such services. The county has plans to build a facility with 40 beds, but the project is not funded.

"We've just got to find the dollars for it, and it would help alleviate the problem," he said.

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