Cecil County Exec Names Drug Policy Aide; Judge Baynes Urges Expanded Drug Court
Faced with a growing crisis in illegal drug usage in Cecil County, County Executive Tari Moore on Tuesday named a health official as a ‚Äúspecial assistant‚ÄĚ to develop a plan to combat drugs and expand treatment options, while a state judge who deals with drug offenders urged broader services to deal with alcohol abuse and families affected by drugs.
Moore and county health officer Stephanie Garrity, who attended a County Council worksession in Elkton to discuss the drug issue, announced that Kenneth R. Collins‚ÄĒcurrently director of the county Health Department‚Äôs Alcohol and Drug Recovery Center– would be detailed to work full-time on developing an ‚Äúaction plan and longer term objectives to reduce substance abuse in Cecil County.‚ÄĚ Collins would remain a state employee‚ÄĒas are all workers at the county health department‚ÄĒand continue to report to Garrity.
Garrity told Cecil Times that in his current post, Collins was in charge of supervising many day-to-day programs and duties with only about ‚Äú25 percent‚ÄĚ of his time devoted to developing long range plans. The shift in priorities will enable him to devote full time attention, for about a year, to creating an action plan for the county, she added. His previous day-to-day duties will be assumed by Michael Massouli, currently the health department‚Äôs clinical director for alcohol and drug services.
In effect, the health department is re-assigning internal duties and the application of a ‚Äėspecial assistant to the county executive‚Äô title is just so much public relations.
‚ÄúI‚Äôm not growing government,‚ÄĚ Moore emphasized, since Collins‚Äô job is already budgeted in the state-county jointly financed health department. ‚ÄúWe‚Äôre re-allocating resources.‚ÄĚ
Moore said that Collins will draft an action plan, following up on the recent meeting of county officials with Gov. Martin O‚ÄôMalley in Elkton to discuss the county‚Äôs high drug overdose death rate and related issues. She also said that local town mayors are interested in forming a coalition to get involved in combating the drug problem.
A consultant‚Äôs study, commissioned by the health department, reported recently that Cecil County has a ‚Äúculture‚ÄĚ of drug abuse and multi-generational family patterns of drug addiction. The report noted the county had the highest per capita rate of fatal drug overdoses in the state, and attributed part of the problem to ‚Äúa cycle of unemployment and poverty among young people,‚Ä¶ seen as leading to hopelessness and substance abuse in Cecil County.‚ÄĚ [ SEE Cecil Times Special Report here: http://ceciltimes.com/2013/07/cecil-county-drug-crisis-culture-of-drug-abuse-pervades-county-poverty-lack-of-treatment-cited-in-new-study/
Cecil County Circuit Court Judge Keith Baynes, a former criminal prosecutor for decades with the county‚Äôs State‚Äôs Attorney‚Äôs office and now in charge of the local ‚Äúdrug court,‚ÄĚ has had a front row seat on the drug problem in the county and brought his experience to the County Council on Tuesday. He frequently sees people with ‚Äúlong term addictions‚ÄĚ to illegal drugs who grew up in ‚Äúan environment of addiction‚ÄĚ among their parents and friends, and ‚Äúthat‚Äôs all they know.‚ÄĚ
The drug court, over which Baynes presides, tries to take non-violent offenders and put them on a strict path to recovery and rehabilitation. Most of the offenders the court deals with have been sentenced for drug-related crimes and they face incarceration if they do not comply with the rules and supervision of the drug court program. Those rules include random drug testing, requirements to do community service, obtain a high school diploma or GED, obtain job training and employment, and participate in required counseling and treatment, including methadone treatment.
Baynes said the lack of an in-patient detox and treatment program in Cecil County is a hindrance to getting help for people who want to get off illegal drugs. Addicts are often forced to be incarcerated while on a waiting list to get a bed at the only available state in-patient treatment facility in the Upper Shore area, in Kent County‚Äôs Chestertown. (Health officials said it can be medically ‚Äúdangerous‚ÄĚ to try to detox a severely addicted person outside an in-patient hospital setting.)
The judge emphasized that the drug court, and its special programs working with health officials and various agencies, has operated without any funds from the county. The state court system, and a limited-term federal grant, have supported the programs, Baynes said.
But to address the full range of issues, the drug court program is looking at expanding into serving alcohol abusers, as some other county programs do, and a potential ‚Äėfamily‚Äô court program to address the issues raised by parental drug usage and its impact on children. Baynes said there is a growing caseload in the domestic masters‚Äô segment of the court system with grandparents seeking custody because their children are addicts and are endangering the grandchildren in the family.
Cecil County Councilor Diana Broomell (R-4), who has taken a strong interest in the county drug problem, inquired about the Collin‚Äôs appointment whether ‚ÄúWill I have a seat at these meetings?‚ÄĚ Garrity said, ‚ÄúAbsolutely.‚ÄĚ
Broomell has created some controversy by having meetings with state drug program officials that other members of the County Council were unaware of and, Councilors suggested, representing her viewpoint as that of the full Council.
Broomell has strongly opposed development of some local drug treatment clinics using methadone for patients‚Äô withdrawing from illegal drugs in Cecil County and spearheaded an effort to change county zoning laws, retroactively, to strongly limit the locations and conditions for sites providing such treatment.
During Tuesday‚Äôs worksession, County Council President Robert Hodge (R-5) cautioned Broomell that the purpose of the meeting was to learn from experts about the drug issue, ‚Äúnot to debate the merits of methadone treatment.‚ÄĚ
Broomell said her concerns were that some clinics (there are now two in the county) seem to emphasize provision of methadone without appropriate counseling to eventually wean clients off all drugs, including the legal treatment substance of methadone.
(Nationally, many drug experts and treatment programs report that some of the most severely addicted patients may never fully wean themselves from methadone, but that its usage is preferable to drug addicts resorting to crime to support and pay for an expensive addiction to illegal drugs.)
Broomell questioned Baynes about his experience with drug court defendants who were using methadone and whether they would become clean and fully drug-free under such programs.
Baynes said his impression was that some of the programs were more ‚Äúmaintenance‚ÄĚ programs than treatment-oriented and were simply ‚Äúsubstituting one drug for another– one is legal and one is not.‚ÄĚ
But, he added, part of the problem is that a patient’s health insurance coverage will often pay only for one option but not both‚ÄĒmethadone treatment or counseling, but not a combination of the two.