Initiative to battle drug abuse

Foundation provides grant to streamline and unify efforts

`We have a problem'

DELTA Project viewed as possible model for the nation

November 10, 1999|By Alice Lukens | Alice Lukens,SUN STAFF

Howard County Executive James N. Robey and the county's largest foundation announced an initiative yesterday to streamline efforts to combat substance abuse -- the first effort of its kind in the county and possibly the first in the country, experts said.

Until now, nonprofit groups and government organizations have tackled the county's drug problems separately. The one-year DELTA (Drug abuse: Evaluation of Legal and Treatment Alternatives) Project, a $320,000 joint effort of the Horizon Foundation and Howard government, will pull together prevention, treatment and criminal justice workers to develop a blueprint to tackle drug abuse on several fronts.

But the project isn't just about planning, said Robey and Horizon President and Chief Executive Officer Richard M. Krieg.

Robey said substance abuse prevention will continue to be a priority for the county.

"We have a substance abuse problem in Howard County," Robey said. "Because of our affluence, we are not immune from this very serious problem. The good news today is that if the war on drugs can be won, it can be won right here in Howard County."

All eyes are on the county, said Rosalind Brannigan, vice president of Drug Strategies in Washington, a nonprofit group that promotes more effective approaches to the nation's drug problem.

"This is the first countywide initiative that we've seen," Brannigan said. "We think if it's successful, it could be a model for the country. It's going to be a very interesting experiment."

What sets the program apart, she said, is that it brings so many people together to work on the problem.

"So often you have turf battles going on," she said. "It's one of the first areas that has tried to bring all the critical players together."

The Horizon Foundation will provide $194,500 for the initiative, with $56,280 of in-kind support coming from county government. An additional $70,000 will be held in reserve by the foundation to hire consultants. The foundation was established last year as the result of a merger between Howard County General Hospital and Johns Hopkins Medicine.

Horizon received more than $60 million to be used to promote health in Howard County. Krieg said the funding to combat drug abuse is the last significant grant this year.

Other foundation grants

Late last month, the foundation gave $450,000 for a project focusing on the health needs of county senior citizens and $264,000 to a free clinic, Columbia's Health Alliance for Patients in Need. It also awarded 13 smaller grants totaling $200,000 to health efforts throughout the county.

In foundation-led community meetings this year, Krieg said, substance abuse came up often as a primary concern.

A 1997 study -- the Community Health Assessment Project -- indicated that substance abuse is "extremely prevalent" in Howard and appears to be growing.

Beyond that, said Evelyn Lloyd, co-chairman of the county's substance abuse advisory board, few statistics on substance abuse are available in the county. She said officials don't know whether the problems are getting worse or better, or how many people are treated for substance abuse every year.

That is why she is excited about yesterday's announcement, she said. It will enable the county to keep better records and more effectively tackle the problem.

"Good, believable data are hard to come by," said Gary Gottfredson, the other board co-chairman. "If you're a small, rural county, you can just stumble along. This county has grown so fast, we need to have professional assistance."

Four months of planning

A four-month effort will start in January to sharpen the focus of and prepare for a countywide substance abuse planning process. After that, four committees will plan projects over eight months.

The county will introduce legislation next month that would enable the grant money to be used to hire four support staff members for the project, Robey said.

Andrea Ingram, executive director of Grassroots Crisis Intervention Center, said she has high hopes for the initiative. Drugs cause more problems in the county than anyone can imagine, she said.

"If you got rid of substance abuse, you would cut out 40 [percent] to 50 percent of shelter needs," Ingram said.

She also said it would help prevent domestic violence and child abuse.

"It's not just substance abuse," she said. "It touches everything.

"If it can't be done here, where can it be done?" Ingram added. "This will be a grand experiment. People will be watching us."

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