Small Team Reaches Out to Treat Addicts
> 4/24/2007 1:53:19 PM

Sometimes it's funny how news stories from different regions can inform one another. Last week we wrote about New York City's financial troubles, created by relying on hospitals as the frontline in addiction treatment. Following closely on the heels of that story comes a piece from Sunday's Washington Post that details an aggressive new approach to the same problem in Montgomery County, Maryland. Located between Baltimore and Washington DC, Montgomery County has faced a growing problem in public drunkenness. It has disrupted businesses and been a distraction for police officers who are pulled off important work to deal with disruptive individuals. Now, Montgomery County is trying something new: a pilot program, that as the county's Health and Human Service Committee's chair describes, "connects willing people," or known addicts who want to clean up, to the existing services that can help them.

At the heart of this new effort are two individuals and a Chevy Impala--a meager crew, but one that after only a few weeks has begun to see results. Frank Lockman and Angela Sluzalis are county employees, and addiction specialists, and for ten hour shifts four days a week they drive around Montgomery County meeting and talking with alcoholics and addicts on the street. They are part of a growing trend that has seen treatment specialists take their message to the streets to convince those afflicted with alcohol or drug addictions to seek help. If and when Lockman and Sluzalis find a person willing to get treatment, they will take them, right there and then, to a hospital for evaluation before taking them to a treatment facility that keeps two beds waiting just for those brought in as part of the program.

Even when they don't bring home a person in need of care, Lockman and Sluzalis's time is not wasted. They are establishing a positive front in the community and showing those living with addiction that there is an option. They are also meeting those effected by addition and learning about the troublesome areas in the neighborhood. If, after their six month trial period, the county decides to expand their program, their work could lead to greater changes and more forward thinking programs.

As the situation described by the New York Times illustrates, treating addicts who show up at the ER can be an expensive and time consuming proposition. By reaching out, government-based and other social agencies can mediate this problem before it escalates. Will these types of efforts reach every person with a problem, certainly not. But getting out in front of the addiction situation in any area can help preserve scarce resources and benefit those whose lives have been touched by addiction. If Lockman, a former addict himself, and Sluzalis can prove effective, there is hope that other states and counties will take note and introduce similar programs.

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