Tuesday, January 25, 2022 Jan 25, 2022
47° F Dallas, TX

HELPING KIDS KICK DRUGS

After an hour, Jan Belland began looking at her watch, drumming her fingers impatiently on the conference room table and rolling her eyes at some of the comments made at the third meeting of the city’s new Drug Abuse Task Force.

All she could think of were the 370 children, most poor and some as young as 8 and 9 years old, with whom she has spent time over the past year trying to get them off drugs. As the executive director of Dallas Challenge, a non-profit organization designed to counsel kids who abuse drugs, Belland told the group that at least half of the children she has been working with in the Oak Cliff junior high school regularly get high on airplane glue, aerosol paints, marijuana, alcohol, cocaine and other mood-altering drugs.

“Isn’t that enough to convince the city council that drug abuse is an epidemic in Dallas County?” she and task force member Jerry Diggin wondered aloud.

Another hour later, Bel land dashed out of the meeting and headed toward the elevators. “I’ve got a kid waiting for me,” she said. She admitted she was frustrated at how the meeting had progressed. She knew that more studies, more convincing and more delays would be needed to get the city to include $110,000 in emergency funding on the November 5 bond election to help kids from indigent families who are in life-threatening drug abuse situations. The deadline for adding the funds to the bond package is August 15.

Despite the frustration, Bel-land’s and the rest of the task force members’ concerns didn’t fall on deaf ears, just realistic ones. The task force is chaired by Mayor Pro Tern Annette Strauss. Council members Lori Palmer, Craig Holcomb, Diane Ragsdale and John Evans are also participating. The biggest concern they have is to determine in the form of a policy statement exactly what the city’s role is in taking care of the young, indigent drug abuser and how that meshes with the role of the private sector. Palmer and Holcomb said they want to see Dallas County involved as well.

The message the task force will be trying to make clear to the rest of the city council this month is that detoxification and treatment programs for indigent youth basically don’t exist in Dallas. The city has a wealth of organizations that provide detoxification and treatment for the average drug abuser, but the costs of those services are $10,000 to $15,000 for about a 40-day session.

Deena Watson, executive director of the Drug Abuse Rehabilitation Consortium (DAR-CO), says her organization and a few others provide treatment for poor young people on a sliding-fee scale, but the number of cases she sees each month are “overwhelming.”

That’s why, in the long run, task force members want to see the city set aside seed money for a publicly/privately funded detoxification and treatment center for indigent youth. Bel-land, Diggin and Joyce Iliya, executive director of the Dallas Council on Alcoholism, say city funding is critical to assure the detoxification center survives. With city support, they believe private sector support will quickly fall into place.

In addition, the task force wants to establish a permanent drug abuse commission. It also wants to launch a media campaign stressing to the public the names of organizations that can help with drug abuse problems and the importance of maintaining strict enforcement of inhalant chemical laws. And lastly, it wants to direct some money from the alcoholic beverage tax that goes into the city’s general revenue fund toward a fund to support existing drug abuse services for people of all ages.

If the city council can’t come to grips with the issue in time for the 1985-86 budgeting deadline in late September, drug counselors like Belland and Watson say they’ll keep up the fight for local support. “I’ll continue to work for public attention,” Watson says. “It’s part of my responsibility. The workers in the field are very dedicated. But we don’t last forever if we don’t get support or recognition for a difficult job. We work with people whom society sees as a problem. After a while, it’s touch to keen going year after year.” -A.E.