Drug counseling and despair

Elise T. Chisolm

October 09, 1990|By Elise T. Chisolm

SHE SAYS the new breed of prisoner just sits there, and it seems he can't answer simple questions, he can't write his name and his eyes are zombie-like. He's "bombed out," she adds.

That's how my friend Anne describes the type of crack victim she is seeing in her work. He is a different type of drug abuser from the prisoner of 10 or even five years ago. Anne is a substance abuse counselor at a prison in upstate New York.

"Most of the men I counsel are crack users, and the rehabilitation chances seem almost nil. After 12 years of working here, I am thinking of a different job, because I feel like I can no longer deal with the results of crack. Even the habitual alcohol abuser was more contrite. They begged for help and there seemed a promise for rehab."

You've heard the terrible stories of crack and crack houses; crack being the smokable cocaine, "the drug of choice" for many.

Anne's story is not surprising. The media abound with stories about New York's out-of-control crime problems. Some New Yorkers are moving out of the once glitzy financial capital of the world.

Anne sees about 35 new prisoners a day. She's been there 12 years. She is a trained nurse and a recovering alcoholic who has known the pain of addiction.

"A typical crack prisoner told me the other day he loved crack, it was like having multiple orgasms . . . I've never seen a drug cause the physical and emotional problem that crack has. The habitual users are hard to handle. They are brain damaged by the time we see them. Crack makes your brain have a volcanic eruption. We call them 'dead eyes,' or 'crack heads.' They feel nothing. And worse, there is no problem getting crack."

My friend does not think the war on drugs is working at all.

"When children have to wear bulletproof vests to school, I don't think we are doing enough to stop the sale of cocaine/crack, or stop it coming into our country," she says. "People on cocaine/crack have a tendency toward early strokes, too, and the children of crack parents are born with small heads, small brains -- they are deformed for life."

Anne adds, "And don't be fooled, crack is causing AIDS even though it is not needle-injected. There is a soaring rise in AIDS among women and children due to indiscriminate sex that accompanies the addiction."

An estimated 860,000 Americans regularly use cocaine/crack, and crack is popular among all classes, top to bottom.

Most professionals think the answer is drug rehabilitation, but where will the money come from for rehab or to enlarge the prisons. That is not to say some organizations and the government are not trying. But so far it seems to be a Band-Aid attempt.

In Maryland for the first six months of this year violent crime was up 13 percent. Of 133 murders in Baltimore, half were drug-related.

Henry L. Templeton, director of parole and probation for the state of Maryland, concurs with my New York friend. He has been a warden and has been in the field for 23 years. His report is no less scary.

"Crack is genocide, and crack, because it is smoked, goes directly to the brain in a few seconds. We have two modes of crack abusers, the one who is hyper and dangerous, and is prone to do anything, and the prolonged user who is just about 'mummified.' We are simply a more drug-involved population than 10 years ago, and today's type of offender is more hedonistic and unmanageable than the criminal who was on softer drugs and alcohol. And worse, we don't have the rehab facilities we used to have."

So what is the answer. How do we stop crack?

Templeton says, "We need to balance drug enforcement with available treatment. Crack users can't cure themselves. We need more drug education in the school system, and we need to take the profit out of crack. But I don't mean legalizing drugs. If a kid can sell crack and make lots of money, why would he work at McDonald's? And I don't think we can keep it out of the country."

Lt. Col. Thomas Carr, chief of the Bureau of Drug Enforcement for Maryland, says, "Crack is harder to deal with, the propensity for violence is greater with crack. Our medical professionals are adept at treating alcoholics, but we're babes in the woods when it comes to crack.

"Baltimore City is not as bad as D.C., Baltimore is still a heroin city. We are attacking the problem on all fronts, prevention, education and law enforcement. Keeping inner city kids in school is a beginning."

"Treatment for all drug addiction is so expensive that there is a debate in the community whether to try to rehab prisoners coming into the system or when they are getting ready to leave," the officer explains.

National data tell us there that among some school children crack cocaine is not as cool to do as it was. But most professionals who cope with the drug problem daily feel that addiction is still a national disaster.

Anne tells me that this year will bring the first wave of drug-damaged children with major learning disabilities into school systems, and it will cost millions to try to help them.

There will be about 4 million cocaine/crack children and babies in 10 years who will require billions of dollars in special treatment. The World Health Organization has announced that there will be 10 million children infected with the AIDS virus by 2000.

I called Anne back last night and begged her to stay on her job a little longer. People with knowledge and compassion are needed to rescue us and save our children.

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