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Officials Laud Work On Addiction Facility

By Brooke A. Masters
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 10, 2001; Page A10

A public and private effort to replace a deteriorating Arlington drug treatment facility puts Northern Virginia at the forefront of the battle to help addicts and cut drug-related law enforcement costs, national and local officials said as work on the center began yesterday.

The $4.4 million project on Pollard Street in Ballston will expand to 160 beds and house the headquarters of Vanguard Services Unlimited, a nonprofit group that provides substance abuse treatment to adults and children in Northern Virginia, the District and suburban Maryland.

Since its 1962 genesis in an Arlington church basement, Vanguard Services has treated more than 27,000 people and grown to 10 facilities. But the 80-bed Arlington building that houses its oldest and largest effort is dilapidated, with insufficient plumbing and troubled air conditioning.

So the nonprofit turned to local foundations and government. Vanguard has already raised 79 percent of the $4.4 million needed, including grants from Arlington County and Virginia, said Debby Volz, president and CEO. The existing program will continue to operate until construction is complete on the new building next door.

At the ceremony yesterday, former White House drug czar Barry R. McCaffrey told more than 50 guests that well-funded and well-run treatment programs such as the ones operated by Vanguard are crucial in tackling serious social problems. "If we don't fund and support science-based treatment, we'll pay for it in law enforcement, accidents, welfare and spouse abuse," he said. "There's probably 10 million of us abusing alcohol and 5 million using . . . drugs, but we've got a treatment capacity of 2 million."

Former Vanguard client Chris Tucker echoed McCaffrey's praise, crediting Vanguard with helping him stay clean for more than 15 years. "It is extremely important that you give us a place to go," said Tucker, of Montgomery County. "We are not criminals. We are not bad people. . . . [Vanguard's counselors] were able to lift the pain and give me a new direction."

The plan to expand Vanguard's Ballston presence has drawn little neighborhood opposition, said Chris Zimmerman (D), vice chairman of the Arlington County Board. "The fact that we can have a facility like this and not have controversy says a lot about the community and a lot about Vanguard . . . the skills and sensitivity they have shown in winning over the community."

U.S. Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D-Virginia) praised the public and private support for Vanguard's expansion. "Arlington is not only taking care of its own, it is showing the way to the rest of the country," he said. "If we can reduce the demand [for illegal drugs] through effective drug treatment . . . the supply will be less profitable and too risky for the growers to invest in."

© 2001 The Washington Post Company