Addicts on the edge

October 19, 2005

A heroin addict in Baltimore who's thinking about kicking the habit, but not quite ready to take the final step toward treatment, is likely to benefit from an experimental program announced last week. Private funders are backing the program initially, but in the long run, the city and state should be prepared to put up their own money.

Called Threshold to Recovery, the unusual initiative is aimed typically at substance abusers who may be close to seeking treatment but can't quite make the commitment, those who may have been through treatment or detoxification but have relapsed, or those who are ready for treatment but no treatment slot is available. Rather than turn users away, the idea is to get - or keep - them connected until they are ready for treatment or a treatment program is ready for them.

At three centers located in neighborhoods on the east and west sides of the city - Penn North Community Center, Dee's Place and Recovery in Community - substance abusers are able to find counseling or connect to a 12-step program at odd hours, relieve stress with acupuncture or tai chi or just find a quiet place to escape negative street influences. With the help of a three-year, $500,000 grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation that is being matched by four locally based foundations, all three programs will be able to expand their reach and collectively help about 1,500 users each year.

That's more than could be reached using the $1 million to create more treatment slots for the estimated 15,000 addicts who are squeezed out of existing spaces. While the city is overseeing the new program, it's not surprising that private funders are more willing to step in and support this experiment, which targets a new group of drug users. But even before the private money is exhausted, the city and state should see this initiative as part of a continuum. Since treatment for those who want it is not always available, helping addicts who are on the verge of seeking it is the next best thing.

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