Center's closing strands federal drug offenders

April 07, 1993|By Norris P. West | Norris P. West,Staff Writer

For no-frills drug treatment, federal offenders were sent to X-Cell in Catonsville. The carpets were worn, the mattresses torn, and the 61-year-old stone building felt as archaic as it looked.

But the spare surroundings were part of X-Cell's appeal to federal court officials, who relied on the treatment center as a low-cost way to help drug addicts awaiting trial.

The Catonsville center shuts down today, leaving many of the addicts with no place to go but jail.

"There is no comparable place at a reasonable cost," said Morris T. Street Jr., chief pretrial services officer for U.S. District Court in Baltimore. "The court will end up placing more high-risk people either in outpatient treatment at a greater risk to the community, or in jail," Mr. Street said yesterday.

Federal Pre-Trial Services has paid X-Cell $65 a day for each client. Over a 12-month period ending last summer, X-Cell treated 55 offenders, according to Mr. Street. X-Cell's last 12 clients, being treated as the center phased out operations in recent weeks, were federal offenders.

Paul J. Gentile, coordinator of mental health and addictions at Maryland Health Resources Planning Commission, said X-Cell has been the most cost-effective of its kind. He said comparable private facilities can cost as much as $250 to $300 a day.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Paul M. Rosenberg, who handles the majority of the detention hearings in federal court in Baltimore, said X-Cell has helped offenders who have failed other efforts to become drug-free.

"My perception has been that X-Cell is the last shot for people, and if you can't make it at X-Cell, you're doomed for life," Judge Rosenberg said recently.

X-Cell suffered a monstrous blow in November 1991, when the state cut money earmarked for long-term care for drug addicts. The state had paid for nearly 90 percent of the center's patients.

The Maryland Alcohol and Drug Abuse Administration eliminated $754,000 that provided most of X-Cell's operating expenses.

Steven Goldklang, assistant director of the administration, said X-Cell, which usually had about 60 clients from the Maryland Division of Correction, was doomed by its near-total dependence on state money while some facilities have been able to tap into other sources.

Maryland has eliminated 358 of its 1,096 residential treatment slots, but is paying for roughly the same number of beds for addicted offenders as it did before the cuts. Most of the offenders are getting 28-day intermediate care instead of longer-term care.

Mr. Goldklang said state offenders who need long-term care are now being sent to the Crownsville-based Second Genesis treatment center.

Richard D. Craig, X-Cell's executive director, angrily criticized the state's refusal to find money for his facility, pointing out that it had a waiting list of 400 when its state funding was dropped.

Michael D. Golden, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, which oversees the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Administration, said the cut was needed to help offset state budget deficits.

"Unfortunately, we've had several rounds of cuts, so we've had to make these reductions," Mr. Golden said.

Since 1991, Maryland's substance-abuse budget, including federal funds, has decreased from $55.5 million to $50.8 million. The state has cut off funding for at least 16 long-term centers.

X-Cell, a 22-year-old program, occupied space on the state's sprawling Spring Grove Hospital Center campus since 1983.

The center once provided therapeutic treatment ranging from 90 days to 18 months. During a recent visit by a reporter, there were rooms full of empty beds, vacant group-therapy rooms and an industrial-size kitchen that has lost its usefulness.

Most of the beds were still neatly made with clean bedspreads. The air, though stuffy, was odorless.

Five clients milled around a 25-inch color television -- one of the center's few luxuries -- in a lounge that once held dozens of people.

Thomas E. Whitehurst, the clinical director, and Ruth E. Evans, the administrative specialist, recalled the days when most of the center's beds were occupied. They remembered when addicts who needed help were getting it, including mothers with young children.

"Two babies graduated from here," Ms. Evans said proudly, referring to children who stayed with their addicted mothers during long-term treatment. "One was born here, and the other was a few days old when he came here,"

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