Substance Abuse Assessment Provides Clues, Raises Questions - Southern Maryland Headline News

Substance Abuse Assessment Provides Clues, Raises Questions


By MEGAN E. GUSTAFSON

ANNAPOLIS (Oct. 26, 2009) - More than 7,000 people across Maryland who struggle with substance abuse aren't receiving publicly funded treatment for it, according to the results of a recently completed county-by-county treatment needs assessment.

Spurred by the passage of HB 850 during the 2007 legislative session, the study was a joint effort by the University of Maryland's Center for Substance Abuse Research and Dr. William McAuliffe of Harvard Medical School's Department of Psychiatry.

By looking at certain data that were likely to indicate a substance abuse problem--such as arrests for drug possession, driving under the influence or deaths attributable to drugs or alcohol, for example--the study sought to determine the level of need each Maryland county has for substance abuse treatment. Those data were then compared to the actual numbers of admissions at publicly funded treatment programs.

The assessment shows that services are available generally in the places they need to be, but more of those services are needed, said Erin Artigiani, the deputy director for policy at the Center for Substance Abuse Research, who presented the findings to a hearing of the House Special Committee on Drug and Alcohol Abuse this week.

And, while results matched expectations in some areas, questions were raised at the hearing about how accurately some of the findings portray the realities of the substance abuse problem and treatment needs in certain areas, namely Prince George's County.

The assessment ranked Prince George's third from the bottom among all Maryland counties in terms of its need for substance abuse treatment, something that, at the hearing, Delegate Justin Ross, D-Prince George's, said "flies in the face" of his experience in the county. Ross was one of the lead sponsors of the legislation that led to the study.

Artigiani told Ross he was not the first person to question Prince George's County's ranking for treatment need.

However, Candice Cason, director of addiction and mental health for the Prince George's County Health Department, presented information to the committee that could help explain why the findings don't seem to match expectations or perceptions. Some barriers to care exist, such as a lack of adequate transportation services in the county, Cason said.

Also, the people who move to Prince George's County are what Cason called "strivers." They come to the county in search of a better life, said Cason.

For county residents "there's a lot of pride involved" that gets in the way of admitting to a drug or alcohol problem, she said.

Cason said other factors could include the high degree of church involvement in Prince George's County. Residents could be turning there for help.

Or, some residents may be receiving services in the District of Columbia, Cason said.

Prince George's County has not ensured that its services are available in the right places and targeted to the right populations, Cason said.

Despite its low apparent ranking in terms of treatment need, the assessment results also show that Prince George's has one of the largest gaps between its treatment need and the actual number of admissions.

Cason said she is interested in working more with the Center for Substance Abuse Research on further research that could shed more light on the needs of Prince George's County's citizens and determine where services would best be directed.

The researchers were also surprised by the apparent high rate of treatment need on the Eastern Shore, according to the assessment's executive summary. In fact, Worcester County, where Ocean City is located, was second only to Baltimore in treatment need.

McAuliffe is well-known in the field of substance abuse treatment needs research and had previously designed similar studies for six other states, said Artigiani.

Capital News Service contributed to this report.

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