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Drug Treatment for Addicted Mothers

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Posted On: <Date Posted>          Updated On: March 04, 2002
© Terence T. Gorski, 2001

Commentary By Terence T. Gorski
March 4, 2002

Drug treatment for pregnant women and women with children make more sense than incarceration.  Drug treatment is at least seven times less expensive and nearly twice as effective as incarceration.  Putting addicted mothers in prison breaks up families and over burdens the foster care system helping to create the next generation of criminal and addicted people.  Treatment can break that cycle.  Here's an example.

Drug Program Gives Struggling Mothers Clean Start

Feb 19, 2002

TAMPA - From the time she was 16 years old, through three pregnancies, a string of low- wage jobs and countless beatings by her husband, Shannon Alvarez snorted cocaine.

She was arrested on coke possession charges in 1996, violated probation repeatedly by continuing to use the drug, and wound up in jail for three months in fall 2000.

Her youngest son, Roger, was 22 days old when she was incarcerated.

``It'll either slap you smart or slap you stupid,'' Alvarez said of her jail experience. ``It slapped me smart in a big way.''

Now 29, she has been clean for 14 months with the help of a local program for addicted mothers run by the Drug Abuse Comprehensive Coordinating Office.

The program is called SAMI, short for Substance Abusing Mothers and their Infants, and it boasts a 2001 ``Best Practices'' award from the state Department of Children and Families and the Florida Alcohol and Drug Abuse Association.

``You have no clue what SAMI has done for me,'' said Alvarez, her eyes filling with tears. ``I've had so many wonderful things happen for me since I've been clean.''

SAMI helped Alvarez walk away from the drugs and violence in her marriage, find public assistance, get an apartment, get her children back from state-ordered custody, and, most importantly, combat her addiction.

``Recovery is just about living life the way it should be lived,'' she said. ``I had no idea how to do that. They taught me the skills I needed and helped me figure out what was broken inside of me.''

Today, Alvarez works part time as a telemarketer and cherishes taking care of her boys: Cesar, 11; Lorenzo, 8; and Roger, 16 months.

Just four years ago, services for mothers with multiple problems such as Alvarez's were scattered and hard to find.

Three local agencies that were serving such women started a collaborative, called Family Centered Substance Abuse Services, to streamline the process.

DACCO became the lead agency for the effort and started SAMI. The other partners are the Centre for Women, which operates a similar program called Project Recovery, and the Child Abuse Council, a local nonprofit agency working to reduce abuse and neglect.

The collaborative receives $1 million annually from the Children's Board of Hillsborough County, which distributes some $24 million in local property tax dollars that fund about 70 programs for children.

``We took that money and created a seamless system for addicted mothers and their children,'' said Kay Doughty, the collaborative director.

The Children's Board funding for the collaborative ends in September 2003.

What happens then is unclear because the board is reconsidering the way it distributes money, said its executive director, Luanne Panacek.

``Right now our funding is so diverse, you can't put a lot of money toward any one area,'' Panacek said. ``We want to put the most dollars where they will have a measurable impact.''

That doesn't mean SAMI and programs like it won't be funded, Panacek said.

Every program the board funds will be evaluated based on how well it meets three criteria:

* How well it performs.

* Whether there are other sustainable funding sources, such as grants or federal dollars.

* How well it fits into the board's new ``strategic focus,'' which is being crafted and is likely to be announced in June.

SAMI is ``outstanding,'' Panacek said. ``We're never going to just walk away'' and leave a program stranded without funding.

For more information about treatment programs for addicted mothers and for women without children, call the Children's Board at (813) 229-2884.


Every day in Hillsborough County, an average of 75 women await an opening in a publicly funded substance abuse treatment program. About 10 percent are pregnant or postpartum. Of the women admitted to treatment in 1995-96:* 59.7 percent were 31 to 45 years old.

* 61.6 percent were white, 34.9 percent were black, 7.3 percent were Hispanic. (Some women considered themselves more than one race.)

* 66.4 percent had two or more children.

* 67.9 percent were unemployed.

* 70.9 percent were involved with the criminal justice system.

* 84.3 percent were paid less than $10,400 annually.

* 55.7 percent were unlikely to complete treatment successfully.

Reporter Karla Jackson can be reached at (813) 259-7606.

This story can be found at :


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