New program treats Anchorage's street alcoholics

Posted: Sunday, August 04, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- A new project in Anchorage seeks to break the cycle of addiction for chronic street alcoholics.

''Pathways to Sobriety'' unites municipal officials and the Cook Inlet Tribal Council Inc.

A core group of dozens of homeless alcoholics in Anchorage is growing older, more addicted and struggling with mental illness, city statistics show. The city's sleep-off center logged 23,653 cases in 2001, an increase of 37 percent over 1997.

To battle that trend, two case managers will be assigned to the city's Transfer Station, a downtown sleep-off facility.

The two case managers will spend their days getting to know alcoholics and assessing their needs. As people leave the center, the counselors will talk to them about treatment and housing.

Chronic inebriates often don't know they have other options, officials said.

Of the roughly 145 people who make up the core group of regulars cycling in and out of the Transfer Station, 35 or 40 are coming in with breath alcohol levels above .30, officials estimated.

''Some of those are the ones that die on the snowbank because they don't know they can do any different,'' said Nancy Bushey, director of the Ernie Turner Center, a treatment facility operated by CITC.

The effort comes after more than 20 years of handling Anchorage's chronic alcoholics the same way: Anyone drunk enough to pose a threat to themselves or others gets picked up by a Community Services Patrol van. They get dropped off at the Transfer Station. They leave when judged sober enough to go.

Admittees are recording higher levels of alcohol in their systems when they enter sleep-off, said Carrie Longoria, manager of the municipality's Safe Cities program. The average breath alcohol reading in 1999 was .250. In 1989, it was .175, she said.

''Those are really dramatic increases,'' Longoria told the Anchorage Daily News. ''Those are very high (levels) and we're really surprised.''

Officials said the two case managers represent the first stage of a long-term strategy to combat alcoholism. A $328,570 grant CITC received last April will pay their salaries, which range from $26,000 to $37,440, depending on experience.

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