'Denial' of local ills called a problem Tour gives officials insight into child, substance abuse

April 24, 1996|By Caitlin Francke | Caitlin Francke,SUN STAFF

Social services officials told Howard County leaders yesterday that one of the biggest problems they see is not substance or child abuse -- but residents' refusal to believe such problems exist.

"We need to help our community wake up and see it's not 'other people,' " said Joyce Brown, the county's substance abuse coordinator. "Part of what happens in this county is there is so much denial on these issues."

County Executive Charles I. Ecker and council President Darrel E. Drown took public officeholders on a tour of drug and child abuse agencies to see a sampling of the county's ills.

The approximately 30 people on the tour, which included the leader of the Columbia Foundation and a state delegate, piled into a school bus yesterday morning. During the trip, they heard how county adolescents lead the state in the use of some drugs and met face to face with a reformed addict.

Group organizers employed some shock tactics, passing out bottles of vodka, tobacco, inhalants and curling irons to show items used in substance and child abuse.

"This extension cord can be a weapon in the hands of the wrong person," Ms. Brown said, holding up the curling iron cord while standing in the middle of the bus.

Organizers also talked about students' ability to hide substance abuse from their parents.

At Oakland Mills High, students described cigarette smoke-filled bathrooms and drugs readily offered to them.

"Every time a parent tells me there is no problem, I ask them to come in" to school, said Dan Fingerman, an Oakland Mills senior.

Throughout the day, tour leaders stressed how substance abuse leads to such problems as domestic violence and child abuse. The group visited a family nearly torn apart by incest and talked about drug and alcohol problems with high school students.

"There are many things that go on in Howard County that you don't know are going on," Mr. Drown told the group. "This is meant to be a learning experience."

The group was told that in the county:

The use of inhalants for a "high" is rising. More than 20 percent of eighth-graders said they had used inhalants -- everything from "liquid paper" to air fresheners -- compared with 16.7 percent statewide, according to a 1994 report prepared by the state Center for Substance Abuse Research.

Police receive about 10 calls a day concerning suspected child abuse. Though many calls are unfounded, some 200 children a year pass through the county's Child Advocacy Center, where they are interviewed about possible abuse.

The Serenity Center -- where Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Nicotine Anonymous, Food Addicts Anonymous and other help groups meet -- has 31 meetings a week that 700 people attend, though some repeat classes.

But as the group heard about problems, they also saw solutions.

One woman at the newly formed Steppingstone program for drug-addicted mothers and their children chronicled her life as a cocaine addict and alcoholic, describing how her nose was broken three times by her abusive boyfriend. She was arrested five times and gave birth to six children.

She has been drug-free for six months at the Ellicott City center and hopes to be reunited with her children soon.

Students involved in a program known as SHOP -- Students Helping Other People -- talked of substance-free parties they have sponsored and the bonds forged because of their desire to be drug-free.

The group was formed more than 10 years ago after four Glenelg High School students died in four years in alcohol-related accidents.

Before performing a skit about the trauma of child abuse, several SHOP members discussed their concerns that parents in Howard County don't understand the magnitude of the drug and alcohol problem in the area.

"Ninety-nine percent of the parents deny the problem exists," the Fingerman youth said.

Group organizers stressed prevention as the means to stop the spread of alcohol and drug abuse and highlighted the need for education programs.

"Prevention works and saves money in the long run," Ms. Brown said.

Pub Date: 4/24/96

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