New hope for teen addicts Nncy Reagan to attend dedication of center in Harford

May 23, 1991|By Bruce Reid | Bruce Reid,Evening Sun Staff

The Rev. Joseph C. Martin, who has spent more than 20 years treating alcoholics and drug addicts, always punctuates his conversations with bits of silliness.

Asked how his patients get into treatment, he says family members, bosses or others sometimes refer them. Sometimes a court does, he says, "or a fifth."

But, as an alcoholic who has been sober for 32 years, Martin knows as well as anyone that alcohol and drug addiction -- and the havoc it wreaks on families -- is no joke. Martin, 66, co-founder of a nationally known private addiction treatment center near Havre de Grace called Father Martin's Ashley, wrote a book on alcoholism called "No Laughing Matter."

Ashley, perched above the upper Chesapeake Bay on the old Oakington Farms estate once owned by the late U.S. Sen. Millard E. Tydings, soon will be able to help fill what Martin calls a "screaming need" for the treatment of adolescent addicts. The center is to dedicate its new Nancy Reagan Hall for Adolescents tomorrow.

The Nancy Reagan Foundation, a grant-giving organization established in 1989 by the former first lady, has awarded Ashley a grant of $250,000 to help pay for the new hall and its first year of operation. Reagan, whose efforts in fighting substance abuse were popularized during her husband's presidency, is to attend the dedication ceremony.

The new program for treatment of young alcoholics and drug addicts is to begin operation by the end of this year or soon after. Teens 13 to 17 years old will be offered stays of as long as six weeks, Martin and other Ashley officials say, during which they will undergo group and individual counseling.

"It's a feather in the cap of Ashley that they would choose us for the grant," Martin said of the foundation. He acknowledged that a well-placed former patient helped obtain the grant.

Martin said Michael K. Deaver, a White House aide turned lobbyist during the Reagan administration, presented the grant proposal to the former first lady. Deaver, who was treated at Ashley nearly five years ago, is on the center's board of directors.

The center has treated more than 4,300 adults in four-week counseling programs since it opened in 1983. Few addiction treatment centers in the country offer intensive counseling geared to teens, Martin and others at Ashley claim.

"The young ones can be extremely difficult because they are fighting the world so hard," said Martin, whose philosophy of treatment is based on getting patients to understand the nature of their addiction and recognize they are sick and not "evil." Ashley's treatment program also draws on the methods of Alcoholics Anonymous.

Getting teens to work together on their recovery is important, he said.

"The denial among the young is very strong," Martin said. "The one thing that knocks down denial is their peers."

Jane, who asked that her real name not be used, is a 25-year-old staff member at Ashley who was treated there for alcohol and drug abuse soon after she turned 18. She chose treatment there instead of attending her high school graduation ceremonies.

"I think it's one of the best things that Ashley has ever decided to take on," she said of the new program for teens.

During her treatment, she said, it was difficult for her to relate to the other patients who were so much older.

Gloria Merriam, who heads the children, adolescent and family services unit of the state Health Department's Alcohol and Drug Abuse Administration, praised Ashley for taking on the program for teens.

But she said she feared the center may have trouble keeping the 20 beds in the new hall filled. Nationally, she said, fewer teens are turning to drugs and alcohol. And, insurance providers looking to cut costs have become less willing to pay for treatment programs, she said, which also affects adult programs.

Merriam added that six other treatment programs for teens, similar to the one planned at Ashley, already operate in Maryland.

Ashley, whose granite buildings are decorated with fine furniture and other trappings of a country estate and whose well-maintained lawns are adorned with centuries-old trees, has been criticized as being too much like a country club, Martin said. Meals are prepared for patients, and laundry is done for them.

Martin said patients -- or their insurers -- are charged $10,500 for a 30-day stay, so it makes sense that they should be catered to. That gives them more time to work on their recovery, he said.

Patients can receive few phone calls while at Ashley, although relatives are encouraged to attend programs aimed at countering the ill effects of the addictions among family members. Viewing television and reading newspapers are forbidden.

"I just tell them, 'If the world comes to an end, we'll put it on the bulletin board,' " Martin said, letting his silly side slip out again.

"The atmosphere at Ashley is conducive to recovery," Jane said.

"Treatment should not be punitive," added Tim Thompson, 39, a counselor at Ashley who went through treatment there in 1985.

Martin founded Ashley with the help of Lora Mae Abraham. She credits him with "saving her life." Abraham, 63, has been sober for 27 years, since she first heard Martin talk about alcoholism.

Martin, a Catholic priest and Baltimore native who attended Loyola High School and Loyola College before entering St. Mary's Seminary, credits Abraham with keeping Ashley running as he travels around the world talking about addictions and how to recover from them.

Martin said he takes his philosophy of treatment from the late Austin Ripley, a former Chicago Tribune writer and Catholic layman who operated an addiction treatment center in Michigan for priests called Guest House.

"He demanded that they look upon every stumbling priest and treat them as they would Christ himself," Martin said of Ripley. At Ashley, he said, "We simply believe in the dignity of every patient."

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