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Treatment center earns high praise

Operation PAR of St. Petersburg was singled out Tuesday as one of the best substance abuse treatment centers in the country by George Washington University's Center for Health Policy Research.

The center, which just concluded a two-year study of treatment available to drug-exposed infants and their mothers, applauded Operation PAR for its family oriented approach and never-ending search for funds.

Despite its success, Operation PAR has more than 250 women, nearly all with small children, on a waiting list to get help for their drug or alcohol addictions.

Shirley Coletti, president of Operation PAR, said the largest non-profit substance abuse program in Florida can't afford to help the women, at least for now. According to the report, most of the 180 public and private substance abuse centers in the country are facing similar hardships.

"Although the federal government now allocates more than $2-billion a year to drug treatment programs, national anti-drug efforts are fragmented and lack an overall strategy," the report said. "As a result, fewer than 11 percent of pregnant addicted women receive any drug treatment."

Coletti said that nationwide, lack of money is the biggest obstacle to helping substance-abuse families. She said Operation PAR was recognized as successful, in part, because it finds more funds than most. "Right now, PAR has 42 different funding sources," she said. "It takes a lot of hustle."

Many programs rely heavily on demonstration grants, onetime federal funds for three- or five-year projects. "The idiocy of this is that you develop a successful program, but then you don't know what you'll get in five years," Coletti said.

She said that in most cases, the government wants a new program in return for new demonstration grants. "I'll have to come out with a new program or call my current program something else," she said.

According to the report, more than 36 federal agencies are involved in anti-drug activities, but neither the Office of National Drug Control Policy nor any other governmental body has the authority to direct the programs. In Congress, more than 75 committees and subcommittees have jurisdiction over drug-related matters.

The report called for simpler, longer-term funding for substance-abuse programs. It also emphasized a need for family oriented treatment programs, rather than punitive approaches that separate families, which are operating in many states.

"Contrary to common beliefs, most of the effects of prenatal drug exposure are temporary and treatable, if the babies are nurtured in a safe and supportive family environment," the report stated.

Operation PAR does just that, allowing families to live together in special housing during treatment. As Coletti put it, "Mothers plus children living together in treatment equals intervention."

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