We have a desperate situation in this city with drug abuse. Shocking statistics only begin to tell the story of death and destruction. From 1982 to 1986, there was a 293 percent increase in hospital emergency room admissions for cocaine abuse and an incredible 445 percent increase for PCP.
An even bigger problem, however, is that people are losing interest in the war on drugs because nobody knows how to end it. The new thinking goes like this: If a person chooses to destroy his or her life with drugs, then it's his or her life to destroy.
There was a time when a place such as St. Elizabeths Hospital would take into protective custody anyone who was a threat not only to society but also a danger to himself. That was when we were more sympathetic to the notion of being our brother's keeper.
Nowadays, it's every man for himself. Even the shooting death of a 12-year-old boy and his dog -- along with more than 100 other "drug-related" murder victims this year -- does no more than baffle the community about what is going on.
However, a new volunteer program has begun in Washington that is a small but critical step to addressing the drug epidemic in this city. It is called the Christmas Marathon, which will provide recovering addicts counseling around the clock from Christmas Eve to the day after Christmas.
"For those of us fortunate enough to have avoided the grips of addiction, Christmas is a beautiful time of the year," said John Cunico, pastor of the St. Francis deSales Church, a sponsor of the marathon. "However, for recovering addicts -- drugs or alcohol -- Christmas is a terrible temptation and stumbling block."
Said Del. Walter Fauntroy (D-D.C.), another supporter of the program, "One of the groups that is most critical and for whom there has not been a concentrated effort is the substance abuse person who is the recovering addict." Fauntroy, a member of the Select Committee on Narcotics and Control, added that the numbers of people needing treatment and continued support with programs such as Narcotics Anonymous has "escalated shockingly" in recent years. "I am deeply concerned about this great need that haunts with deep pain and heartache every strata of our society," he said.
So far this year, more than 150 drug overdose deaths have been reported. Most homicides are now drug-related. Felony drug arrests rose 177 percent; felony drug prosecutions are up 509 percent. About 74 percent of all adults arrested tested positive for drug use.
"We do the urine surveillance for the criminal justice system and what we have learned is that a lot of guys use that as an opportunity to get their heads together," said Floyd Agostinelli of the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Services Administration. "But once they get their heads straightened out and their emotions in order, they're still poor, they're still black, they're still unemployed and there is no aftercare of them at all."
The marathon starts at noon Thursday and continues until noon Saturday. Recovering addicts can come to the Drug Treatment Center at 1300 First St. NE for round-the-clock counseling to help cope with the holidays.
"We expect to have a stream of addicts who will come in and sit with others and say, 'Hey, man, I ain't going to make it,' and another guy saying, 'Hey, I ain't going to make it either,' and you know what -- they'll make it," Agostinelli said.
"It starts slow but it really builds up so that at some point, heavens, there can be 900 easily through the course of a day," he added. "We expect an awful lot of hugging because there is a strong camaraderie when people help each other like that."
The problem, however, is that there is no food for these people, and $2,500 is desperately needed to buy some.
Tax-deductible contributions can be sent to St. Francis de Sales Church, 2021 Rhode Island Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20018. Donors are asked to write on checks "Client Fund," so the money can be sent to the city's Comprehensive Abstinence Program.
It is just a start, one small way for more residents to get involved in this war on drugs. And even if conventional wisdom prevails, doesn't it still leave room for us to help those who are trying to help themselves?