Trying to do more to confront its drug problem, Howard County is looking for a place to put a halfway house for drug treatment, which would be the first residential facility in the county in years, local health officials said.
County Executive James N. Robey has allotted $70,000 in matching funds for a halfway house in his proposed operating budget, said Raymond S. Wacks, Howard's budget director.
Two years ago, Howard County released the DELTA Project (Drug abuse: Evaluation of Legal and Treatment Alternatives), a report on an in-depth investigation of substance abuse in the county. It recommended, among other things, providing inpatient drug treatment.
"It's long overdue if I'm going to make a serious commitment. I'm going to give it that support," Robey said.
According to the report, nearly 2,000 Howard residents sought drug treatment in 1999. Half of those patients sought treatment outside the county.
The Howard County Health Department has applied for a state grant to fund the program, which requires matching local funds.
"The need is clear and present," said Dr. Penny S. Borenstein, Howard's health officer. "It would have been very unwise of the county not to grasp that opportunity to gain state dollars."
In fiscal 2002, more than 1,500 Howard County residents received drug treatment, according to statistics from the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Administration of the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
"While we lack a continuum of care for substance abuse treatment in many areas ... the halfway house was perceived as one of the greatest needs for folks," Borenstein said. "People are released from higher levels of treatment or the criminal justice system and really return to the community without a steppingstone."
In addition to a location, the county is working to identify a health-services provider to staff the 15-bed program for men.
One possible site is Taylor Manor Hospital, a nearly 100-year-old Ellicott City psychiatric facility taken over by Sheppard Pratt Health System last year. It has previously cared for substance abuse patients. The Taylor family owns the buildings and leases space to Sheppard Pratt for the hospital - now known as Sheppard Pratt at Ellicott City - and to two other companies for group homes.
Taylor Manor Hospital
For years, Taylor Manor has offered treatment for "dual-diagnosis" residents, those with drug problems and mental illness. From 1982 to the early 1990s, it also was an intermediate-care facility for substance abusers, said Dr. Bruce T. Taylor, its medical director.
A halfway house would provide an additional period of support, Borenstein said, with an average stay of six months. During that period, patients would "continue substance abuse treatment and utilize that time to put together all the necessary components of a well-oiled life," such as housing, Borenstein said.
Statewide, there are 26 halfway houses, 23 of which are publicly funded, said John Hammond, a spokesman for the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. Howard operates outpatient detoxification, methadone and drug treatment programs, as well as a drug treatment program based in the county detention center, Borenstein said.
Intensive outpatient services are also available in the county through private providers. In addition, Borenstein said, Howard has contracts with residential treatment facilities in surrounding areas.
The most commonly used drugs named by Howard residents during admission for treatment are alcohol, cocaine or crack, marijuana and heroin, according to data compiled by the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Administration and adapted by the Center for Substance Abuse Research at the University of Maryland.
Abuse of opiates other than heroin, such as OxyContin or Percocet, is increasing. In fiscal 1998, 4.2 percent of addicts reported abusing other opiates.
But the statistic was 6.9 percent in fiscal 2002, according to the center.
Sun staff writer Larry Carson contributed to this article.