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ADDICTS ON WAITING LISTS CAN'T WAIT

ADDICTS ON WAITING LISTS CAN'T WAIT

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While on the waiting list for the Crawford Center's drug and alcohol addiction treatment program, Douglas Darnell Sumner picked up a butcher knife and aimed for his mother's back.

``I'll kill you,' he told his mother, Colleen Hiatt, who dropped to her knees to avoid the blade.``He had no idea who he was, who I was or where he was,' Hiatt said of her son, who was high on whiskey and cocaine during the incident March 9, 1989.

Sumner, 29, who received a six-month prison term for the incident, was so out-of-control that he put his head through a wall, ripped a door off its hinges, threatened to kill himself and attacked a police officer with a wooden chair.

Sumner had tried to get help three months before that incident. But, like hundreds of low-income Guilford County residents who seek help for drug and alcohol addiction, he was put on hold because the center's 24 beds were full.

When he sought help from the Crawford Center, one of two treatment centers in Guilford County, he was added to the 400 people on the waiting list between November 1988 and November 1989. Of those, nearly half never received treatment after being lost to things such as jails, prisons and drunken-driving accidents, according to a study commissioned by the center.

``This is very scary,' said Jim Wall, the center's director. ``We have a very severe need here.'

The Committee to Reorganize Substance Abuse Services in Guilford County, appointed by the Guilford County Mental Illness Board to negotiate a merger of the county's publicly funded substance abuse agencies, is searching for ways to fill that need.

The committee will meet Friday.

``Funding has always been a problem,' said Bill Barnes, committee member. ``We've got the cart before the horse. We've got the lock up. We've got the courtrooms. But we don't have adequate treatment facilities.'

Barnes' committee may recommend that a larger treatment facility be opened.

Guilford County commissioners support a larger, central treatment facility and are willing to spend the funds, said Commissioner Jackie Manzi.

``I don't think it's going to be a funding problem as much as it's going to be a 'let's get together and get this done problem,' ' Manzi said.

Three years ago, the county had 55 in-patient treatment beds to serve a population of 300,000. It lost 22 treatment beds when the Sycamore Center closed its treatment facility. For the past several years, county-funded treatment facilities have been bickering over what to do with the beds and how to combine the agencies.

The county hired a facilitator, and it appears that the Crawford Center in Greensboro, with 24 beds, and the Alcohol Education Center in High Point, with nine beds, have finally agreed to merge.

Under a plan to be discussed at the meeting, the Crawford Center and the Alcohol Education Center would be combined into one facility that would offer 55 treatment beds. Fifteen beds would be used for emergency detoxification, the remaining for a residential treatment program that takes 28 days to complete.

``The fact is that we really need some more beds,' said Don Jones, executive director of the Alcohol Education Center.

``Waiting lists do not work,' he said. ``We usually have substance abusers come in when they're hurting and need help. If we don't get them in right away, they end up getting drunk again.'

If they get drunk again, they often end up at the Guilford County Jail. In fact, 25 percent of the inmates at the crowded jail are there on drug and alcohol offenses.

``These people go through a revolving door because they cannot get help,' said Public Defender Wallace Harrelson, who is on the board of directors for Alcohol and Drug Services, the non-profit agency that runs the Crawford Center.

``You're dealing with human life,' Harrelson said. ``People could die from lack of treatment.'

Sumner, a repeat offender who is out of prison now and trying to stay away from drugs and alcohol, said his life would be different if he had gotten treatment when he asked for it.

``If I had gotten treatment, I'd be a lot better off financially - that's for sure,' Sumner said. ``I also wouldn't have so many prison convictions.'

His crimes, including assault and driving while intoxicated, were fueled by his addiction to drugs and alcohol, he said. Instead of getting help, he was sent to prison, where he always managed to find drugs and alcohol to sustain his addiction.

``I sold plenty of cocaine and (marijuana) in the prison system,' Sumner said. ``I got drunk several times on the road squad.'

When he was released from prison, he would stay straight for a while and then go back to drugs. He tried to kill himself three times.

``You feel pretty good until the next day, when you wake up and realize you screwed up again,' Sumner said. ``And you hate yourself all over again.'

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