Program a dose of 'Reality'

June 28, 2004|by BRIAN SHAPPELL

HAGERSTOWN - Law enforcement officers, attorneys and volunteers will be among those taking part locally in a program designed to turn around teenagers and young adults who face drug and alcohol problems.

Reality USA's four-class program for first-time drug and alcohol offenders will begin Tuesday at the Hagerstown Police Department, said National Coordinator J. Terry Ober.

Ober said the program can accommodate up to 18 people for each of the approximately six sessions per year, and gives young offenders an in-depth look at drug and alcohol use.


Instructors will be drawn from agencies including Maryland State Police, the Hagerstown Police Department, the Washington County State's Attorney's Office and Community Rescue Service.

Ober said successful completion of the program by offenders often results in the closure of cases against them.

He said parents who are concerned that their children have used drugs or alcohol can enroll them in the local program even if the youths have never been charged with related offenses.

"Unfortunately, with most of the programs in Maryland, your child has to be arrested," Ober said. "This program, it's not the case. You can catch the child at an earlier age."

The cost of the program is $130, although payment plans and scholarships are available, Ober said.

Reality USA is a nonprofit community outreach program designed to assist drug and alcohol offenders with their substance-abuse problems, according to the Reality USA Web site. Reality USA was started about 13 years ago and is used as a rehabilitative measure in Tennessee, Maryland and Delaware, the site said.

The Reality Program of Washington County, the local offshoot of Reality USA, was spearheaded by the Washington County Sheriff's Department starting in 1998, Ober said. Ober and deputies said the department has not participated in 2004 because of a "lack of response."

Hagerstown Police Department Chief Arthur Smith said participating in the program in recent years has been a "no-brainer" for the city department. He said he believes such programs are more effective than policing efforts, in the long term, when dealing with the city's most pronounced crime problems - drug trade and addiction.

"A lot of kids who have some difficulties are still at an age where they can be reached," Smith said. "I think, as a society, we need to put more resources into reaching them while they still can be turned around. The social cost of not doing so is very high."

More information on the Reality USA program can be found at the organization's Web site, Information about openings in the local program starting Tuesday can be obtained by calling 1-866-758-3004.

Reality schedule

The following is the tentative schedule for the early summer session of the Reality USA program/Reality Program of Washington County:

Class One - Tuesday at the Hagerstown Police Department

Students will learn about short-term, long-term and statistical information related to tobacco, alcohol and various drugs, and their effects on the community and on families.

Class Two - July 6 at Community Rescue Service

Students will learn about some serious injuries and deaths related to alcohol and/or drug use.

Class Three - July 13 at Washington County Circuit Court

Attorneys will explain the laws and penalties associated with use, possession and distribution of drugs and alcohol.

Class Four - July 20 at the Hagerstown Police Department

Students will hear from users about their personal experiences and "mistakes."

- Source: Reality USA news releases

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