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Addiction center set to open in Beaver County

| Tuesday, Aug. 21, 2012, 12:04 a.m.

A nonprofit that treated more than 7,000 people with substance-abuse problems last year opens its first inpatient center for adolescents next week, and not a moment too soon, said the group's clinical youth manager.

“It is a sad reality that we need an adolescent treatment facility,” said Nicole Kurash of Gateway Rehabilitation. “But if we catch it when they're teenagers, maybe there's a chance they can be productive adults. ... We talk to a lot of adults now who say they wish there was some place like this when they were younger.”

The $7.2 million, 42-bed facility on Moffett Run Road in Center, Beaver County, is designed for youths between 13 and 21 years old. The modern-looking building features a three-story main building, a courtyard and bright colors that “don't make it feel like a rehab facility or a hospital,” Kurash said.

Admissions are expected to begin Aug. 28. Having a dedicated place for adolescents could be beneficial for treatment, said Latika Davis-Jones, administrator of the Allegheny County Department of Human Services' Bureau of Drug and Alcohol Services.

“I can't say one treatment option is better than the next, but it's an added benefit for them to have their space,” Davis-Jones said.

A July 2011 study by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University in New York said 90 percent of Americans suffering from addiction started smoking, drinking or using drugs before age 18, and almost half of all American high school students smoke, drink or use other drugs.

“Addiction is a disease that in most cases begins in adolescence, so preventing or delaying teens from using alcohol, tobacco or other drugs for as long as possible is crucial to their health and safety,” said Susan Foster, the center's vice president and director of policy research and analysis.

Gateway Rehab counted 855 youth admissions to its inpatient and outpatient treatment centers in 2011 — the most recent data available. Spokeswoman Nancy Wilson said patients come from across Western Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio and Maryland. In 2011, Gateway Rehab Centers treated a total of 7,026 people, of whom 12 percent were younger than 21.

Gateway has long offered inpatient youth programs, but adolescents had to share space with adults. At the new facility, youths referred for inpatient treatment — generally a 28-day stay — learn about making the right decisions in an environment designed for them.

“We think that's important, since treatment for youths is different than treatment for adults,” Kurash said.

For youths, marijuana and alcohol top the list of abused drugs. Multiple-substance addictions and prescription drugs round out the top four.

Kurash said prescription drugs have become a bigger problem recently. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 20.7 percent of ninth- through 12th-grade students have taken prescription drugs, including Oxycontin, Percocet, Vicodin and Ritalin, without a doctor's prescription.

“Before they become addicted, they think it's safe because it came from a doctor. But it's very addictive and expensive to support,” Kurash said.

Some adolescents eventually turn to heroin because it's cheaper, more easily available and provides the same high — but faster.

“It's a real problem,” Kurash said.

Adam Brandolph is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-391-0927 or abrandolph@tribweb.com.

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