Pubdate: Thu, 30 Dec 2004
Source: St. Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)
Copyright: 2004 St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Author: Bill Smith
Bookmark: (Methadone)
Bookmark: (Treatment)


Plagued by debt and evidence that its top executive used agency money
to pay off thousands of dollars in personal bills, one of this area's
oldest and best-known drug programs will cease operations today.

Drug and Alcohol Rehabilitation and Treatment, better known as DART,
will stop methadone treatment to about 250 Missouri clients at the
close of business this afternoon, agency officials said this week.

But, they said, the treatment program will continue uninterrupted
Monday under a newly formed nonprofit group consisting largely of DART

"We want it to be a smooth transition for our clients," said Dawn
Munday, a DART employee and office administrator for the new group,
Center for Life Solutions. "We're hoping that the only thing they
notice different is our name."

Center for Life Solutions will operate the methadone program out of
the same medical building, at 637 Dunn Road in Hazelwood, where DART
has been operating. Recently, the Missouri Department of Mental Health
awarded Center for Life Solutions a $650,000 contract to treat drug
addicts with methadone through next year.

Eydie Caughron, DART's director of nursing, who will hold the same
title with the new agency, said this week that the contract would be
extended automatically as long as the new agency remained in
compliance with state rules.

The methadone treatment center is the final drug and alcohol treatment
program operated by DART, an organization whose roots can be traced
back about 35 years. This year, mental health officials pulled the
agency's $900,000-a-year contract to operate a medical detoxification
unit at 1027 South Vandeventer Avenue in St. Louis.

That contract was awarded to Bridgeway Counseling Services, an agency
with a long track record in the area of dealing with domestic violence
and sexual assault. Bridgeway recently spent about $180,000 for
renovation work at the South Vandeventer center, which has 24
inpatient beds.

The first public signal that DART was in trouble came in early August
when the Post-Dispatch reported that agency officials acknowledged
debts of nearly $400,000, including money owed to landlords,
laboratories and the Internal Revenue Service. The actual figure may
have been as much as $850,000, some officials say now.

The agency's executive director, Darryl Grimes, and two members of its
board of directors said at that time that the red ink was the result
of higher treatment costs, rising liability insurance premiums and
escalating employee health insurance costs.

About three weeks later, a state audit reported that Grimes had used
agency money to pay off a series of what appeared to be personal
bills, including the cost of a computer dating service, golf fees and
accessories, clothing, electronic items, dry cleaning and restaurant

American Express credit card records obtained by the Post-Dispatch
also indicated that Grimes used agency money to pay for a long list of
other, apparently personal, items. They included $248 to an eyeglass
store, $62 to a florist shop, $960 for airline tickets for Grimes and
his wife, $167 to a shoe store in the Lake of the Ozarks and several
bar bills.

Grimes was fired. No criminal charges have been filed. A spokesman for
the Missouri attorney general's office said this week that the
agency's board of directors had turned the information over to local
police investigators.

Grimes has declined comment for past stories about the payments. He
could not be reached for comment this week.

Adrienne Gaines, a DART board member who formerly served as board
president, said this week that today would mark the "end of an era" in
area drug and alcohol treatment.

"If DART had not been in the community, there would have been a void,"
she said. She said she anticipated that Bridgeway would do "even
greater things" in the future and said of the new employee agency's
taking over the methadone program: "I wish them God's speed."

She declined comment on Grimes.

Michael Couty, director of the Division of Alcohol and Drug Abuse for
the Missouri Department of Mental Health, said Thursday that the state
had worked hard to make sure that there was no interruption in
services to the methadone clients.

"We are confident in the ability of this new organization to do the
work," he said. He also said that the collapse of DART had resulted in
a series of safeguards that should help agencies recognize worsening
financial problems before it was too late.

Officials with the new Center for Life Solutions said they hoped the
agency could eventually move into new areas of counseling and
treatment, including help with gambling addictions, corporate drug
screening, tobacco addiction and anger management.

"That's in the future," said Center for Life Solutions board president
Anne Richie. "We're not trying to step into everything at once."

Richie emphasized that Center for Life Solutions was a "separate
entity, not a carryover of DART. We want to start with a clean slate."

She said a more open and responsive board and a strong system of
financial checks and balances should guarantee that past problems were
not repeated.
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