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Teen girls' program on brink of closing.

Byline: Diane Dietz The Register-Guard

Eighty girls - waylaid in childhood by drugs and drink - passed through the rooms at Willamette Family Treatment Services in Eugene in the past three years.

On Oct. 1, the federal grant that supports the program will run out and the flow of girls will stop short.

The closure will continue the erosion of addiction services for teenagers in Lane County.

What the girls have at Willamette Family until then doesn't look like much: a single bed each night in a converted nursing home room. And in another room, lessons each day in relapse prevention, relationships and birth control. And they get an ear for their sorrows and a nudge in the right direction.

But for most of the girls - ages 12 to 18 - treatment has been their first and last chance to establish a steady, ordinary life instead of the chaos they'd known in their parents' homes.

The stakes are even higher for the newborn or soon-to-be born children that about half of the teens carried into treatment.

"If this place wasn't here, I'd have no chance," one 17-year-old mother in a baby blue sweatsuit said during a recent therapy session at the center.

The girls are buoyed by female therapists, teachers and helpers while they stay for one to three months at Willamette Family.

They learn the rhythm of regular meals and bed times. Those with infants get intensive training on keeping their children safe and parenting them kindly.

"Everything we think of as the norm, they have to learn. ... They need a long time," teen program manager Lucy Zammarelli said. "People talk about rehab; we say, `No, we're just doing the 'hab' part.' '

Officials at the nonprofit agency made it their chief priority this past year to find money - state and local funds or national foundation gifts - to make up for the $1.8 million federal grant that's soon to run out. But so far, they are empty-handed.

"The hope was at this point in time the state would have some additional funding, or we would have more county funding to keep something going - but it hasn't come through," Zammarelli said, "One way or another, we've got to keep our girls going. We can't not have something for girls. It's not right."

Roller coaster

Dollars for drug and alcohol treatment in Oregon always ride a roller coaster.

Federal grants come and go. State allocations swell and flatten. Local contributions wax and wane. The number of county residents getting alcohol or drug treatment each year swung from 5,000 down to 3,000 then back to 5,000 again in the past five years.

This year, the Oregon Legislature took aim at methamphetamine. Lawmakers passed a first-in-the-nation law to require that cold pills used in the manufacture of meth be sold only with a doctor's prescription.

But the lawmakers did little to alter the demand side of the drug equation.

By the end of the session, they'd allocated only $2.5 million in additional money to potentially pay for treatment, but an as yet to be determined share of the sum will, instead, pay for administration of drug courts.

In Lane County, money for treating adults is unreliable, but the proportion for teenagers has gone down, down, down.

Programs paid for out of public and private sources have disappeared: Sacred Heart Adolescent Recovery Program; Oregon Trail Adolescent Treatment Center; Prevention & Recovery Northwest; and the ACES adolescent program.

The five-year-old John Serbu Youth Campus in Eugene initially included a 21-bed drug and alcohol treatment program. But the county initially only had enough money to open 14 beds. And that number has since been halved.

The program at Serbu, called Pathways, provides the only residential treatment in Lane County for boys. To get in, boys have to be in trouble with the law.

Willamette Family Treatment is providing the only local residential drug treatment for girls, and attracting the attention of police was not a requirement for admission.

For a decade, the teen wing at Willamette Treatment has fluctuated between two, four or eight beds, depending on where the center could scratch up money.

"It goes up and down, but right now it's as low as it's ever been," Zammarelli said.

Though the teen program is threatened this fall, the agency's adult residential programs remain intact.

Even if eight beds were kept in operation in the teen program, three to five severely addicted girls would have to wait for an opening to get into treatment, staff said.

Often, there's no good place for them to wait. Some go back to homes where parents are using drugs. Some return to their drug dealer roommates, staff said.

Counselors try to get them into the homes of a safe friend or family member or get them a temporary bed at the Station 7 homeless center in Eugene.

"Oftentimes, we don't have places for them to wait outside of their homes. Sometimes they wait on the streets," said Terri Fraser, counselor for juveniles appearing before the county's Recovery and Progress Court.

Willamette Family urges the girls to hold on, to come in the daytime for treatment, to eat lunch at the center, to lean on the counselors until a bed is free.

"I'm telling them I'm sorry. It breaks your heart, these kids, the situations they're in," manager Georgia Bronson said.

While treatment options dwindle, signs foretell a larger population of girl drug and alcohol addicts in Oregon.

For the first time, more of the state's eighth-grade girls reported drinking more alcohol than their male counterparts, according to the Oregon Healthy Teens survey.

The annual survey has been administered to one third of high school students for a decade.

Girls appear also more vulnerable to meth - 1,001 entered residential treatment for meth in 2004, compared with 742 boys, state statistics show.

Teenagers have plenty of access to the drug on the streets of Eugene, Zammarelli said.

"There's no lack of drugs in this town," she said. "You can get anything you want. Cheap. Girls, of course, don't have to pay. They trade for sex."
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Title Annotation:Health; Willamette Family hasn't found money to fund services after a federal grant runs out on Oct. 1
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Sep 9, 2005
Previous Article:Bold enough to fail.
Next Article:County residents in support of beer tax for treatment funding.

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