Helping addicts help themselves

Urban Chronicle

Recovery: Statistics show one program's success through job placement and support.

October 04, 2001|By Eric Siegel | Eric Siegel,SUN STAFF

GETTING hard-core addicts to stop using drugs is one thing; getting them to stay off drugs and lead normal, socially productive lives is often quite another.

That's what makes statistics from Recovery in Community (RIC) - a novel substance abuse program in one of Baltimore's most drug-infested areas - so promising.

Twenty-four of 27 addicts who "graduated" from the program in August 2000, with a year free of drug use, were tracked by program managers and an independent evaluator. Of those, 17 (or 71 percent) had full- or part-time jobs; another two were in school. All continued to use the program as a resource.

Of an additional 25 people who completed a year in the program two months ago, 15, or 60 percent, were working.

And of nearly 120 people now participating in the program, just more than a third are employed - about twice as many as had jobs when they began.

In a city that shows signs of getting a grip on an entrenched epidemic of drug abuse and the crime that it generates, with a boost in treatment money and a decline in drug-related emergency room visits, the program offers a potential model for keeping recovering addicts from returning to the streets.

To Lena M. Franklin, the significance goes beyond numbers. "What we're talking about is enhancing people's lives," she said.

Franklin is director of RIC, the 2-year-old program run out of a converted church rectory in the Franklin Square neighborhood of West Baltimore.

Funded by a $2 million, three-year grant from the Abell Foundation and administered by Baltimore City Healthy Start Inc., a nonprofit group overseen by the city, RIC is not a treatment center. Rather, it is a program that attempts to connect addicts to treatment and then offers them extensive post-treatment support in their neighborhood, ranging from acupuncture to group therapy to job counseling.

One of the first graduates who says his life has been enhanced is Ernest Murphy, 53, a former heroin addict and self-described "street hustler" who works part-time as a cook for a private caterer.

"I started at $8 an hour. Now I'm up to $9," said Murphy, who lives with his sister not far from the program's offices at St. James United Methodist Church on Monroe Street.

Another is Chauncey Clifton, 43, whose crack habit cost him his job as a roofer. After six months getting clean, he spent six months working in an auto shop and now works as a locker room attendant at a downtown club.

"I made $23 an hour as a roofer," he said. "Today, I make $7.25. But I keep more money in my pocket now because I'm not using."

Anthony Weathers, one of three workers who try to reach out to neighborhood addicts and a recovering addict himself, calls graduates like Murphy and Clifton "one of our strongest referral services."

"Not because of what they say, but because people see them," he said.

Plenty of people need to be referred. The neighborhood the program operates in was also the setting for The Corner, the book about the inner-city drug trade that was developed into an award-winning HBO television series.

An independent evaluation of the RIC program this year by the Center for Social Research in Marriottsville dispelled any lingering doubts about the links between drugs and crime.

With the consent of the participants, the evaluators obtained criminal histories of 377 addicts who entered the program in its first year and a half. They had been arrested and charged with a total of 4,666 crimes - an average of 12 per person. About a third of the charges were for drug violations; another quarter were for property crimes; and about one in five were for violent crimes.

But the evaluation also found a two-thirds drop in arrests of people after they entered the program, and a smaller dip in crime and drug arrests for the Franklin Square, Boyd Booth and Lexington neighborhoods.

"It is possible that RIC and the community-based style of work that it represents is influencing the rate of crime among its participants and also influencing the amount of drug activity and arrests in the surrounding community," the evaluation noted, adding that more study was needed.

Backers are similarly cautious in their assessment of the program, which is in its last year as a demonstration project and will likely need public funding to continue.

Indeed, one reason that the program makes such a point of recognizing its "graduates" is that the 12-month milestone is relatively rare. The average length of enrollment is a little more than five months, according to the program's analysis.

"It's a difficult endeavor," acknowledged Jane Harrison, senior program officer of the Abell Foundation. "It's incredibly hard to sustain someone in recovery in a place that's saturated with drugs."

Still, she said, "What is emerging is that there is a climate of support that is important. The trends are very encouraging."

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