Treatment center a sobering experience for teen addicts

Program could be model for Balto. Co. initiative

July 08, 2002|By Gerard Shields | Gerard Shields,SUN STAFF

At 15, Michael King of Dundalk began smoking marijuana and abusing alcohol.

"It led to trouble with the law and doing stupid things when I was high," King said.

Now 18, King has started 45 days of treatment at Mountain Manor in Irvington, one of two centers where Baltimore County sends teen and adolescent drug abusers to get sober.

"I'm hoping that the treatment keeps me on the right path when I go home," said King.

Mountain Manor offers a glimpse of the kind of treatment center for youths that Baltimore County officials have said they hope to establish.

The county recently received a $450,000 state grant that it intends to use to purchase a building to house a treatment center.

The county hopes to buy a building at Rosewood Center in Owings Mills, a former mental hospital where the county already has adult drug treatment programs. It has until Oct. 1 to purchase a building there or find another.

The county sends 50 youths a year to Mountain Manor. Another 50 year go to the Pathways program in Annapolis each year. In addition, 320 of the county's 1,600 outpatient treatment clients are youths.

Michael Gimbel, director of the county's Bureau of Substance Abuse, said the numbers show the need for a residential treatment center.

"We're the third-largest county in the state and the teen population is growing," Gimbel said.

Mountain Manor is one of three private residential detoxification centers for youths in Maryland. The former monastery at 3800 Frederick Road, about two miles from the Baltimore city-county line, treats patients from ages 12 to 20.

The center, housed in an old two-story stone building is expanding from 69 to 85 beds for residential drug treatment, officials said. Patients receive both group and individual counseling at Mountain Manor. A typical day includes three counseling sessions, two in groups and one with an individual counselor. Free time is spent watching the community television set or reading.

"Many of the youths at Mountain Manor also have school, family or psychiatric troubles. The average age of youths in treatment there is 16 and the average stay is about 35 days.

About 450 Maryland youths are treated there each year, a third of them for marijuana or alcohol abuse. Another third are cocaine addicts, with another third heroin addicts, center officials said.

Milton "Mackie" Pajak, of Westminster, for example, began smoking marijuana at 10.

By the time he was 16, he was taking LSD, snorting cocaine and smoking crack. Later he began shooting heroin.

"I spent lots of money every day," Pajak said. "And I was doing anything I had to do to get it, like robbing people."

Up to 75 percent of the youths are referred to the center by juvenile courts, which pay the $275-a-day cost of treatment. Many users also are drug dealers, officials said. If they start using drugs after treatment or are caught dealing, they face more treatment or jail time, or both.

But, said Mary Roby, president of the center, "After treatment, they don't have to rip somebody off because they're not trying drugs."

Mountain Manor has found that two of three residents relapse within a year of discharge -- a rate that mirrors national trends, officials said.

Now 18, Pajak said his 26 days in the program have helped him. For the first time since he was 10 years old, he's sober.

"I can honestly say that since I've been here, things have gotten better," he said.

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