DACCO dedicates Center for Behavioral Health in East Tampa

03/24/09 Seán Kinane
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Since 1973, the Drug Abuse Comprehensive Coordinating Office (DACCO), has provided treatment, intervention, and prevention services to people with substance abuse issues.

This morning in East Tampa, DACCO dedicated its new Center for Behavioral Health. Their services used to be geographically separated, DACCO CEO Mary Lynn Ulrey points out, but now everything can be done under one roof.

“For over three decades, almost four now, we’ve actually provided outstanding programs, award-winning programs, for prevention, treatment, education -- in-schools, out-of-school, to children, adults, seniors. You name it, we do it. I call it ‘cradle to grave.’ Wherever you have substance abuse, we’ll take care of it.”

During the dedication ceremony, which featured music by a band from Tampa Tech, Ulrey presented the building’s ceremonial key to Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio. With the bright spring morning as a backdrop, Iorio pointed out how important it is to help people with a substance addiction by contrasting their emotional outlook with that of people who don’t have substance abuse issues.

“You don’t wake up and look at the beautiful blue sky and the green grass and the birds and the flowers and say ‘It’s a beautiful day; I’m going to take on the day,’ because you’re battling a demon that is so very, very difficult to overcome.”

Keith Carpenter, DACCO’s director for opioid addiction treatment services gave a tour of the extensive 65,000 square foot center.

For five years, Andrea Price battled an addiction to prescription pain medication she began using when she had cancer. She started receiving help from DACCO a little more than three months ago, just after the new center opened.

“They set up where I could get the help now and pay when it was available. I didn’t have to have it up front and that saved my life. All the other places were like, ‘Come back another time.’ If you don’t have 70,000 [dollars] to get in the door: ‘Sorry, we can’t help you.’ That’s very discouraging to an addict that reaches out for help. When you ask for it, you need it then. That’s a big step for an addict and it saved my life. It gave me my self-confidence back. I’m a better mother. I’m looking for a job now and I feel good about that. I get up every morning with a smile, I can see the positive. I have my life back and I have that back thanks to DACCO. They gave that back to me.”

The new facility that provides services to Price was funded with a $16 million bond from the City of Tampa and $1.9 million in community matching funds from nonprofits, private donations, and businesses -- and from a Hillsborough County Community Development Block Grant. Price receives counseling and participates in group sessions with the more than 60 other residents -- who Price calls her ‘sisters’ -- in the Women’s Center Residential Treatment Program at DACCO.

“Some people are further in their addiction than others. Some people have done things you haven’t. You’ve done things they haven’t. So you can share those experiences and get feedback on what you’ve been though, how to handle it, how to deal with it. And you can also give that to somebody else if you’ve been to those places that they haven’t. We have counselors here that help us. We have our sessions with them. They give us treatment assignments which is kind of like issues that we’re working on. We get to work on those together. It’s not just the substance abuse that gets treated; it’s the reason that led to our substance abuse.”

Bonnie Kirstein is an intervention specialist for Hillsborough County Schools and works with children – many of whom have parents who receive services through DACCO. She calls it a “safe haven” for the community. Kirstein’s sister is a resident at DACCO overcoming an addiction to pain medication she was prescribed after a severe automobile accident.

“She’s been here four months. My sister does not use a wheelchair anymore, she walks. She limps, she falls sometimes, but she has no walker and no wheelchair, which every doctor said [would be] absolutely nothing short of a miracle. But because she came here and they gave her hope, and they’ve worked with her intensely, she actually got a job on Monday, and now she’s working and a productive member of society, where she was completely unable before she came into DAACO.”

Among the many services offered at the new DACCO Center for Behavioral Health are a pretrial Drug Court intervention program, a classroom for adults seeking a GED, employment support and job counseling, transitional low-cost housing, a primary care medical treatment clinic, and even ear acupuncture to overcome cravings that can promote drug dependency.

Gary Terry is a Colonel with the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office and is on the DACCO Board of Trustees. Colonel Terry points out that about 70% of the 3,500 people in Hillsborough County jails are there because of a substance abuse-related crime.

“This facility is going to allow all the facilities of DACCO under one roof. … We used to think that we could just build more jails. Just build more jails, put them away and just keep building. Folks, that doesn’t work. We can’t build our way out of these problems. We have to stop substance abuse and DACCO is one of the means to stop substance abuse. It works, believe me.”

You can learn more about the services offered by DACCO by calling 813-984-1818.


previous WMNF coverage of DACCO

St. Petersburg Times column on Andrea Price and DACCO

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