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Archive for Sunday, March 11, 1990

COUNSELORS CAN HELP GUIDE DRUG USERS AWAY FROM THEIR DEPENDENCY

March 11, 1990

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If you think drug abuse isn't really that much of a problem in Lawrence, consider this: There are seven meetings of Narcotics Anonymous and more than 60 meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous every week in Lawrence.

And keep in mind that AA meetings aren't just for alcoholics, nor are NA meetings only for abusers of narcotic drugs.

"In Lawrence, there isn't a big distinction between AA and NA," said John Colyer, clinical director at the DCCCA Center, a substance abuse treatment, prevention and intervention agency. "Seldom do we find an alcohol abuser who doesn't use other drugs. And seldom do you find a cocaine addict who hasn't discovered the wonders of depressant drugs to take the edge off."

Colyer, himself a longtime member of AA, has seen the program expand from three weekly meetings and fewer than 30 members in 1974 to an organization whose membership is so large that it's hard to measure today. Colyer's best guess at membership was "hundreds and hundreds."

AND THE LOCAL drug problem is bigger than AA and NA. Lawrence features a number of agencies that provide treatment, counseling and rehabilitative services for drug and alcohol abusers.

At DCCCA, the largest facility in the area, more than 1,400 people have received individual counseling for drug and alcohol problems within the past four years and many more have been reached through group and family counseling. DCCCA counselors have performed a yearly average of more than 500 drug and alcohol evaluations since 1986.

Despite this effort, Bruce Beale, DCCCA director, estimates that the agency is reaching only about a fifth of local substance abusers. Beale said about 90 percent of DCCCA's clients are referred to the agency by the court system, by the state Social and Rehabilitation Services, by employers, by teachers and by other sources.

"I'd say only 10 percent wake up one day, decide that they have a drug problem and call us," he said.

SHANE JONES, a clinical social worker for Christian Psychological Services, 1000 Ky., estimated that only 10 percent to 15 percent of the people who receive counseling from the agency have a chemical dependency problem. Jones said counselors at CPS conduct an average of 70 counseling sessions a week.

Jones said that although the numbers may seem to indicate that drugs affect only a small portion of the city's population, the effects of the drug problem are much more widespread.

"I've had a number of clients who do use or have used . . . say, `Shane, you'd be amazed how many prominent people in Lawrence do use cocaine,'" he said. "It's not just a back-alley type of a problem. It's not just rough people. It scares you, because you do want to believe that our community leaders . . . have their stuff together. But then you hear over and over again that they use drugs or alcohol abusively. It's pretty disheartening."

Jones said the drug problem is something that all local residents should be aware of.

"I THINK it's important that the community constantly be kept aware that this is something that happens here every day," he said. "Because I think there's a tendency to deny it."

Counselors stress that alcohol abuse is the biggest substance problem they deal with. But, as Colyer said, alcohol use often coincides with drug use.

Statistics from a DCCCA study of 326 drunken driving violators in 1987 shows that 80.8 percent had used drugs. About 30 percent of the violators used drugs on a regular basis, and almost 12 percent were drug addicts.

Counselors say problem users come from all sectors of life. Users differ in age, gender, social and economic background, education level, race and other areas. The list of abused drugs is also varied.

Besides alcohol and illegal drugs such as cocaine, legal drugs also are behind some addictions.

"WE'VE GOT middle-aged women coming to (AA) meetings because they're addicted to prescription tranquilizers," Colyer said.

What is a drug problem?

Addiction, Colyer said, is a disease that may result from a combination of genetic predisposition, a person's use pattern, the age of the user and continuing stress.

DCCCA also defines drug abuse as a substance problem. Abuse is basically when someone makes poor decisions under the influence of a substance or when a user turns to chemicals in reaction to a situation. Examples of abuse are drinking and driving or taking drugs to cope with a test, an important business meeting or any stressful event.

For people with drug problems, local agencies offer services to help from the time they recognize their problem until after they finish treatment.

HEADQUARTERS Inc., 1419 Mass., is a 24-hour counseling service that offers what its director calls "immediate" counseling. Headquarters counselors do most of their work over the phone, although walk-in clients are welcome.

"We deal with what's going on now and then help refer them to somebody else if they need further help," said Marcia Epstein, Headquarters director.

Epstein said a major concern of Headquarters when it started in 1969 was to help teen-agers with drug problems. She said 470 of the 1,700 calls the agency received in 1971 were related to drugs.

Since then, Headquarters has retained its emphasis on drugs but has greatly expanded its services to include help for concerns ranging from AIDS to suicide and other personal problems. Epstein said that of the 16,000 calls last year, about 700 were related to substance abuse. She guessed that only 50 of those calls were cocaine-related.

At DCCCA, a problem drug user may receive individual counseling or attend group and family sessions. DCCCA also may arrange for the user to enter a detoxification and treatment program. DCCCA also features a drug prevention program aimed at keeping people away from drug dependency.

AN EXAMPLE of DCCCA's work is a group session at Lawrence High School, in which students discuss problems they are having with drugs and alcohol. Gerry Riley, a DCCCA prevention counselor, oversees the session.

During a session last spring at LHS, part of the discussion centered on a boy who had decided to enter a treatment facility for a substance problem. Riley let the students do most of the talking. Students who had been through treatment shared their experiences with the boy, encouraging him to make the most of the opportunity to get clean.

"They can tell if you're faking it," one student said. "They call it the `Eddie Haskell' syndrome."

Recidivism is common after treatment. Another DCCCA study showed that a little more than 50 percent of the alcoholics and drug abusers who received treatment remained clean.

While counselors are disheartened by the recidivism rate, they think they can help reduce it.

"It's no fun to be chemically dependent," Colyer said. "I have a philosophy that people don't fail, treatment fails."

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