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Drug hearing draws crowd

May 25, 2000|By DAN KULIN /Staff Writer

Drug addition counselors aren't paid enough and Western Maryland needs more long-term residential recovery facilities, according to testimony during a Thursday public hearing on addiction treatment and prevention.

Two existing facilities, the Massie Unit in Cumberland, Md., and the "W" House in Hagerstown, received high praise from recovering alcoholics and drug addicts who testified that they might not be alive if not for those programs.

Thirty-six people including recovering addicts and health officials gave more than two hours of testimony at the hearing in the Kepler Theater at Hagerstown Community College.

The hearing was before members of the Maryland Drug Treatment Task Force, which is headed by Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy-Townsend and Del. Dan K. Morhaim, D-Baltimore County.

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Christina Trenton, executive director of the "W" House, said the "W" House is the only long-term halfway house in Washington, Allegany or Garrett counties.

"We need more long-term programs," Trenton said. Applause followed her statements.

About 10 other people said the area needs more long-term treatment and recovery facilities.

Margo Smith, administrator with the Frederick County Health Department, said the state salaries for drug addiction counselors are in the low $20,000 range and are too low.

It was a comment echoed by about five others including Townsend.

"We heard we need more treatment and better treatment and better pay for the drug counselors who are doing God's work," Townsend said after the hearing.

There is some money in the current budget to increase salaries for drug counselors, "but they need more of an increase," she said.

The task force will conduct four hearings this year, including the Hagerstown hearing, and will use the testimony to compile a report to present to the General Assembly in January.

More than 100 people attended the hearing in Hagerstown Thursday.

Other issues raised included the difficulty service providers have getting insurance payments for some services and the need for more education to remove the stigma of addiction.

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