Today, the Whig reported on an issue that should be of vital importance to the citizens of Cecil County: How do we begin to combat the substance abuse issue that is plaguing our community?

Some of our county leaders have been advocating the cause of the Whitsitt Center in Chestertown, which is currently the only destination for Cecil County residential detox and inpatient service referrals. Treatment at the center comes at no cost to the patient, supported solely by state grant funding and some private insurance, but nearly half of the facility’s capacity is going unused.

About 18 months ago, state officials informed the rehabilitation center that it could not bill the state medical assistance program while also receiving state grant funding. That decision resulted in a loss of more than $500,000 for the facility and forced its administration to close 14 beds.

The Whitsitt Center’s loss quickly became the Eastern Shore’s loss.

As addicts now begin seeking available resources to get sober, instead of finding opportunity, they encounter weeks-long waiting lists. It takes a lot of courage to seek help from a issue that is wreaking havoc on your life and often one more obstacle is just one too many.

Ken Collins, director of the Cecil County Health Department’s Addiction Services Division and Cecil County Executive Tari Moore’s appointed special assistant for drug policy, told the Whig Tuesday that expanding detox beds would not be a cure-all for the county’s issues.

“It’s not just about getting people into treatment programs, but also making sure they are actively involved with discharge programs, whether it is a halfway house, sober home or intensive outpatient program, or a combination,” he said. “Getting sober is just the very beginning of a recovery journey.”

Collins added that additional funding to reopen the East Wing is one possible objective, but reducing Whitsitt’s number of referral counties, opening referrals to Western Shore facilities or establishing a program to fund detox stays at private facilities in neighboring counties are also options that could help.

We wholeheartedly agree with Collins that expansion of outpatient programs and housing is an objective that should be at the top of Cecil County’s list, however, seeking to expand treatment of people currently addicted cannot hurt in the interim. We also support those alternative options mentioned by Collins if proven that they could be enacted quickly.

The Health Resources in Action report released this year highlighted the fact that Cecil County’s problems are not on the horizon; they’re already entrenched in our neighborhoods. Now is the time to use the attention of the governor’s office given to us in September, as there is no telling how long those promises may hold.

We encourage county leaders to lobby the governor’s office as well as the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to either fund the Whitsitt Center at 2010 levels or change regulations for the Eastern Shore’s referral process – either decreasing the Whitsitt Center’s number of referring counties or allowing Cecil County to also refer patients to Western Shore facilities. It is obvious that our county holds an inordinate percentage of the patients seeking help at the Whitsitt Center and we should do everything in our power to change that.

We believe the waiting list at the Whitsitt Center should be drastically smaller than it currently is and Maryland needs to do more to open opportunities sooner to those seeking help. In aiding the Whitsitt Center, we can increase the number of Cecil County patients treated while we establish our long-term goals.

Taking the first step in recovery is one of the hardest, according to experts, and we believe the same applies to Cecil County’s recovery as well.

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