A Carroll County mother of a 24-year-old heroin addict has been waiting six years to attend a local heroin support group, like the one being held tonight at the National Guard Armory in Westminster.
The woman, who requested anonymity to safeguard her daughter's privacy, said she's eager to attend the meeting to see if the fledgling group can "open some eyes about the urgent need" for long-term treatment of heroin addicts such as her daughter.
The meeting, sponsored by the county Juvenile Justice Department and the office of the state's attorney, is geared to anyone needing support, guidance, information or a sympathetic ear on heroin-related issues, organizers say.
"It's an opportunity for the victims of heroin abuse - the family members of the addicted abusers - to realize they are not alone in dealing with this devastating drug," said George Butler, a drug-education specialist for the state's attorney.
Butler and Amy Lawrence, a heroin addiction counselor for juvenile services, will hold the initial session and have no agenda.
"If parents of heroin addicts attend and want to pick up the ball and run, we'll provide whatever support we can," said Butler, noting a growing number of calls to his office in recent months from those needing help dealing with addicted family members.
State's Attorney Jerry F. Barnes said families of heroin addicts have two realistic options.
"They can try to get their loved ones into long-term treatment," Barnes said, "but that's nearly impossible because the treatment centers have zero space for long-term abusers.
"Or they can seek criminal charges and get their loved ones locked up so the addicts don't die before long-term treatment is available."
The mother of the 24-year-old addict has faced that predicament at least annually in the past half-dozen years, she said.
"It's very difficult for parents after a child becomes 18," the mother said. "You have to stop enabling [an addict], and that's hard when it's your own daughter or son.
"We've had to put our daughter out [of the house] four or five times and try to help her get treatment after she was arrested," the mother said.
Butler, who has presented anti-drug information to more than 6,300 Carroll County students since April 1998, said he and Lawrence have fielded many calls from family members of addicts in the past two years.
Lawrence deals personally with families of about 20 heroin addicts a month, Butler said.
"Their stories are nearly always the same," he said. "They are frustrated and don't know where to turn, what to do next.
"Their addicted son or daughter often steals money or jewelry from them to buy the heroin because they believe parents won't press charges."
Until charges are brought, the cycle repeats itself, Butler said.
A support group might help break the cycle sooner for some families, he said.
"Once they hear how others have had the same frustrations and how they have coped with it, it might make it a bit easier for them to deal with addicted family members," he said.
Butler said members of Residents Attacking Drugs and Al-Anon will attend to lend support and answer questions.
"We'll all be there to help," Butler said. "People can remain anonymous, if they prefer.
"No one will be gathering information to arrest or prosecute anyone," he said.
The meeting begins at 7 p.m. at the Maryland National Guard Armory, 300 Hahn Road, Westminster. Information: 410-386-2671.