Pubdate: Thu, 20 Sep 2001
Source: Washington Post (DC)
Copyright: 2001 The Washington Post Company
Page: B01
Author: David A. Fahrenthold, Washington Post Staff Writer


1 In 10 Dependent On Alcohol

About 60,000 District residents -- more than one in 10 -- are addicted
to illegal drugs or alcohol, D.C. health officials have concluded
after a door-to-door survey.

The survey of 15,035 households, conducted last December, is the most
comprehensive snapshot of substance abuse ever taken in the city, D.C.
government officials said. Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) plans to
release the study at a news conference today and announce a goal of
reducing the number of addicts by 25,000 by 2005.

Drug addiction "needs to be looked at as the 800-pound elephant in the
room," said Larry Siegel, head of the District's Addiction Prevention
and Recovery Administration. "The community needs to decide, once and
for all, that this is intolerable."

In the representative sample that was surveyed, about 8.9 percent said
they were addicted to drugs or alcohol. Siegel's staff then added in
estimates of the numbers of homeless and institutionalized people
addicted to drugs or alcohol to come up with a final figure of roughly
10.5 percent of the city's population.

The national rate of dependence, based on a 1999 house-to-house survey
by the federal Department of Health and Human Services, is about 4.7
percent. In that study, federal officials estimated a 4.1 percent
dependence rate in Virginia and a 4.7 percent rate in Maryland.

A 1997 study by Maryland's state government estimated that 65,185
Baltimore residents were addicted to alcohol or drugs, or 10 percent
of that city's 2000 population.

The house-to-house survey was the first such study in the District.
Local drug treatment experts said yesterday that the findings rang

"We've always said there were about 60,000 people dependent," said
Renee Lohman, of Washington Behavioral HealthCare, which helps
coordinate local substance abuse and mental health care. "It's not
getting better."

The study found that marijuana was the most commonly used illegal drug
in the District, with about 7 percent of those 12 and older having
used it in the past month. Next came cocaine, which about 2 percent
reported using in the last month. Less than 0.4 percent reported using
heroin in the last month.

District residents were far more likely to be addicted to alcohol than
illegal drugs. Nearly 29,000 residents have an alcohol addiction,
according to the survey, compared with the 10,400 dependent on marijuana.

Among youth ages 12 to 17, one in six reported having had an alcoholic
beverage in the month before the interview. Anita Bellamy Shelton, who
heads the Hillcrest Children's Center in Northwest, said her
experience suggests that youth drinking is on the rise.

"The sleeper is the increase in alcohol among youth," said Bellamy
Shelton, whose organization treats children for mental-health and
substance-abuse problems. She said children progress from beer to hard
liquor quickly. "It's like a social thing, and then it's every day,"
she said.

The survey found that 11.5 percent of blacks had used an illegal drug
within the past month, compared with 7.3 percent of Hispanics and 6.6
percent of non-Hispanic whites. The rate of drug use ranged from 14.1
percent in Ward 2, centered on Southwest and including neighborhoods
such as Georgetown and Shaw, to 2.7 percent in Ward 3, in far Northwest.

But whites were the racial group most likely to have used drugs at
least once in their lifetime -- with 61 percent of white respondents
answering "yes" to that question. The percentage was 41.1 percent for
blacks and 16.9 percent for Hispanics.

"For a while, we've been burying our heads in the sand about the
[extension] of the problem across racial and ethnic lines," Bellamy
Shelton said. "This is an equal-opportunity disease."

Tackling the problem will be the work of a mayoral task force
appointed in March and headed by Siegel and D.C. Police Chief Charles
H. Ramsey. Today's news conference, at a new methadone clinic on N
Street NE, will highlight one of the fields that Siegel says needs
improvement: treatment for addicts hooked on heroin and other opiates.

Siegel said he hopes to focus the District's anti-drug efforts on
treatment, expanding beyond the city's 8,000 treatment beds for drug
and alcohol abusers.

"I consider the waiting list to be 52,000 people," Siegel said,
referring to the rest of the 60,000 thought to be addicted.

The study, conducted for the D.C. government by private contractor
Westcon International, also found high rates of tobacco use in the
District. About three in 10 District residents said they had smoked a
cigarette in the last year, and about one-quarter had smoked in the
last month.
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake