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Widmyer adds alcohol-treatment courses

October 07, 2007|By BETHANY TREMBLAY

Widmyer Driving School has become one of only a few driving schools in Maryland to offer state-approved alcohol treatment programs in addition to regular driver education courses.

The Hagerstown-based driving school, which has operated for more than 25 years, recently received approval to offer alcohol treatment for DUI and DWI offenders.

Most clients who take the courses are ordered by the court to do so as part of a driving under the influence or driving while intoxicated sentence, but the courses also can be taken on a voluntary basis.

Within the alcohol-treatment program are two sub-programs - alcohol education and alcohol treatment/counseling. These are run through Widmyer Driving School, which employs three certified addictions counselors for the program.

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Joe Widmyer, owner of Widmyer Driving School, said clients are given an assessment to help the school and the court system decide which program would better serve the client.

The confidential assessment, administered by the school, is comprised of testing and discussions with counselors. Assessment results determine whether the client is a "social drinker" or a "problem drinker."

"It's tough to fool this little test," which contains weighted questions to help the school classify the client, Widmyer said.

Classifications are completed before the clients appear in court for sentencing. Widmyer said the classifications help judges decide what treatment offenders need. After receiving court orders, the client is referred to one of the two programs.

Alcohol education is for clients who Widmyer says are classified as "social drinkers," or for first-time offenders. The alcohol education program is a 12-hour, six-week program.

The education course is taught in a group classroom setting for two hours each week. Widmyer said classroom material covers everything from alcohol in the body, alcoholism and how it affects both the individual and family, how to get treatment and alcohol's effects on driving.

Clients who are classified as "problem drinkers" or who are repeat offenders of state DUI/DWI laws, are referred to Widmyer's alcohol treatment/counseling program.

Widmyer said this program is a more intense version of the education program. The alcohol treatment/counseling program is a 39-hour, 26-week course that includes random alcohol testing and individual and group counseling. It meets for 90 minutes a week.

For the first few weeks, the client meets individually with program counselors, after which he or she begins to meet and work with a group.

When one of Widmyer's clients completes the program, the client returns to court, parole, probation or the MVA. Widmyer said the court and MVA have separate hearings for offenders. He said DUI/DWI convictions are "costly and complicated expenses, resulting in costs up to $5,000 in some cases."

Widmyer said his school provides proper documentation to prove the alcohol training is complete.

All client information is confidential.

Widmyer said his certification for the alcohol treatment program is controlled by the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene Alcohol and Drug Abuse Administration. And, he said, "the process was not just a simple one-page application."

After completing a lengthy application, Widmyer Driving School was required to have the program in place with the proper certified personnel. The state reviewed Widmyer's program and inspected the school's facilities before making the final decision.

Counselors working with clients are certified through the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. Widmyer said each counselor is a licensed clinical alcohol and drug counselor.

The state certification also approved the school for providing drug treatment, but Widmyer said he decided to focus specifically on alcohol.

"The program complements what we already do," Widmyer said.

The addition of alcohol treatment courses extends Widmyer Driving School's driver education programs. The school also offers programs in driver education, point system conferences and driver improvement.

Widmyer Driving School has seven other locations in the state and all of the school's instructors are certified by the Motor Vehicle Administration.

The alcohol assessment, alcohol education and alcohol treatment/counseling programs are offered at Widmyer Driving School's Washington and Allegany counties locations.

Widmyer's programs are certified through both the State of Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and the MVA.

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