Number of Child Addicts Surges as Funds for Treatment Run Dry

By Anna Schecter

Jul 6, 2007 12:28pm

Money is "drying up" for a program that treats kids addicted to the lethal heroin amalgam called "cheese" that has rapidly spread among Texas youth, and drug counselors fear the problem will go national if it is not eliminated. "The bottom line is these kids need treatment and they can’t get what they need. Kids doing heroin every day—outpatient care is not an option," said Michelle Hemm, Director of the Dallas Phoenix House rehabilitation center for adolescents. 

The drug, a mixture of heroin and Tylenol PM, has killed 21 teens in Dallas and surrounding areas since 2005, and the Blotter on reported last year that children as young as ten years old have become addicted. Drug enforcement agents in other states including California and Missouri and in Canada are reportedly keeping an eye out for the potent concoction. Drug counselors in Dallas say they are forced to treat kids who desperately need residential care as outpatients because of stingy managed care companies and lack of state funds. "Just last week we had eight kids who would meet criteria for residential sent to outpatient—so that’s the level of [existing] care ," said Hemm.
Hemm said that though the state allocates $500,000 annually to the Dallas facility, a managed behavioral health care program called Value Option Northstar decides whether funding for a teen will encompass in- or outpatient care.  Before the state contracted Value Option Northstar to manage Dallas and five other Texas counties, the Dallas Phoenix House would be home to patients for nine weeks.  Now, Hemm said, after four to five weeks Value Option Northstar forces the center to discharge the teens. A Value Option spokesman said the funds they allocate for in- and outpatient care are based on criteria set forth by the state."A more prudent course of action is to shorten the period of inpatient care and then gradually step down the care.  It’s not just 60 days and you’re out the door," the spokesman said.    The Phoenix House facility in Austin is outside the scope of the Value Option Northstar program, and receives $1.5 million for residential care directly from the state (recently down from $2 million). Austin has not been hit by the devastating "cheese" phenomenon, according to law enforcement. Hemm is scheduled to meet with Senator John Cornyn, R-Texas, today to discuss funding for the Dallas program. Last month Cornyn added a measure to an existing bill that puts "cheese" on the list of illegal drugs in the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign, which will allocate funds for "anti-cheese" commercials and other public awareness efforts. "A public awareness campaign is key to correcting this misconception [that 'cheese' is not dangerous] and reversing the tide of this dangerous new drug," said Cornyn. Hemm said she hopes Cornyn will see that Dallas rehabilitation centers "on the ground" are overwhelmed and need the funding to treat teens who are already addicted to this lethal drug. Click Here for Full Blotter Coverage.

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