When Ron Clark began RAP Inc. in 1970, the drug abuse treatment center served primarily heroin addicts.
Although the drug of choice has changed over the years -- from PCP to cocaine to crack -- RAP's underlying philosophy of treatment remains basically unchanged as it celebrates its 20th anniversary.
"We do things pretty much the same as we have for 20 years," Clark, the executive director, said yesterday. "We treat the spirit, the body and the mind."
The RAP program creates a "total lifestyle": a holistic approach to drug treatment that involves counseling, nutrition, study groups and a family setting.
About 80 urban drug abusers -- referred by courts, churches, counselors and former participants in the Washington area -- are housed in its Laurel facility, which resembles a college campus more than a hospital or detention center. People who complete the 18-month program are called "graduates."
Some RAP "alumni" who entered the program facing severe chemical dependencies and possible prison terms are today physicians and salespeople, counselors and jazz musicians.
One alumnus is Abdur Rahman Abdullah. In 1982, at the age of 30, Abdullah said, his mother kicked him out of her New York house. He had been a heroin user for 13 years and what he called an "embarrassment" to his family.
Abdullah's brother brought him to Laurel and enrolled him in RAP. He said his first 90 days -- in which he, like other participants, was allowed no contact outside the RAP community -- were rough.
"I really wanted to bolt out of here," he said.
He chose to stay, graduated, became a RAP counselor and now supervises the facility's clinical staff.
RAP itself also has developed and adapted to a changing world. When the organization was born, "rap" was street lingo for "talk." Clark said the goal was "to talk people back" to health. In the '90s, "rap" means rap music, which Clark embraces. Residents now write lengthy and intricate rap songs to describe their struggle with drugs.
RAP, most of its members being black, also has developed an Afrocentric education program.
The residential program is modeled on an African village, with tribal leaders and elders. Many counselors use African names and wear African clothing.
In its search for new treatment methods, RAP now has a staff member who specializes in acupuncture. Koyaki Patterson said his treatment reduces the psychological craving for drugs and is designed to "bring balance back into the body" so it can "absorb the rest of the program."
Because many residents also have AIDS, Clark recently has expanded the facility to assist male substance abusers with the disease.
The organization also has moved into the business world. Its graphics shop produces silk-screen T-shirts and trains residents in manufacturing, accounting and sales. Profits help support RAP programs,
Clark says RAP's main challenge now is to reproduce its facility and program in other communities.
"We should treat drug treatment like the Boy Scouts of America," Clark said. "We wouldn't think of having a community without the Boy Scouts."