Proposed cutbacks stir strong backlash Substance-abuser gives thanks help was there

October 02, 1991|By Jonathan Bor

Six years of "misery" have taught Mae not to make wild predictions about dumping her cocaine-and-booze habit once and for all. Lord knows, she says. She's been homeless, stolen from friends, lost jobs and woken up with sick cravings too many times to get starry-eyed about the future.

Now at Tuerk House, a residential treatment center in West Baltimore, the 32-year-old Annapolis woman says it feels "beautiful" to wake up and face a new day: "It feels good to get up and know today that I may learn something and stay clean rather than worrying about where I was going to get the next drug to get high.

"I feel I have a good chance."

Today, 150 people -- either homeless, incarcerated or just plain desperate -- are waiting to get their chance at Tuerk House, which has room for about 50 people at a time. But the waiting list, along with the program itself, could disappear Nov. 1, under the budget cuts announced yesterday by Gov. William Donald Schaefer.

And Tuerk House isn't alone. Yesterday, Health Secretary Nelson J. Sabatini said grimly that the budget ax would force the closing of all adult residential treatment centers across Maryland that rely on state funds. This includes 10 programs like Tuerk House that keep patients for 28 days and five centers that treat addicts for longer stints.

About a dozen private centers that treat primarily paying patients would remain after the cuts.

All told, the $12 million in budget cuts targeted for the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Administration mean the elimination of 1,072 beds that provide openings for 7,700 addicts in the course of a year.

Mae greeted the news stoically, saying other addicts wouldn't have the same chance she had without Tuerk House.

"Without Tuerk House, I probably would have ended up dead or in jail somewhere," said Mae, a pleasant woman who cracked her knuckles and tried to restrain her shaking hands as she spoke.

She checked into Tuerk House three weeks ago, the second time she had entered the red-brick building on Ashburton Street hoping to get her life on track. The first time was in December 1989, a stint that helped her to stay clean for 11 months.

Mae doesn't blame Tuerk House for her failure to stay away from drugs and booze. She said the counseling and group sessions gave her stability and hope. And the staff didn't just dump her out on the streets when her four-week stay was over. Instead, she went directly to a halfway house where she lived for nine months.

The supervisor there referred her to a psychiatrist, who diagnosed her as a manic-depressive and prescribed Lithium. She got a job as a cashier in a grocery store. She completed a short course in computer programming and even hoped to get a job in that field.

But when she left the halfway house, something snapped. She started socializing with her addict friends again and, before long, rebounded into a regimen of cocaine and alcohol that was more intense than anything she had known before.

"If it was available 10 times a day, I used it," Mae said of the cocaine. "I'd get it from people who would share it. If I had money, I bought it. If they had money, they bought it. Food wasn't even on my mind. It was, who could I get money from, who could I steal from. Or who could I get it from for free."

Finally, about a month ago, she couldn't tolerate the life anymore and checked herself into North Arundel Hospital in Glen Burnie for a three-day program to rid her body of drugs. She asked the counselors there to get her readmitted to Tuerk House.

"By the grace of God, they took me right away."

Next Wednesday will mark the end of her four-week stay at Tuerk House. She hopes to move into another halfway house, but it could be a short stay because the state budget cuts would close all 18 state-funded halfway houses for addicts and alcoholics.

If that's the case, she figures she will move in with her mother, who is also taking care of Mae's three children. Whatever happens, she said proudly if tentatively, "I really think I have a good chance."

As for the tide of people waiting to get into a Tuerk House that soon may not exist, Executive Director Joseph Verrett had this to say: "Somehow, the state is going to have to support these people. The chances for them to become productive citizens will become slimmer and slimmer."

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