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Teen's Tale of Drug Torment Captures Young Audience

January 31, 1985|DEBORAH HASTINGS | Times Staff Writer

PASADENA — Sitting cross-legged and speaking in a calm, clear voice, the young man began telling his tormented story of drug addiction to a classroom of 8th grade students.

Within minutes he had the rapt attention of every youngster in the room at Charles Eliot Junior High School.

"I started using drugs when I was about 10 years old," 17-year-old Geoff Henderson told the class. "I started with alcohol." A few years later, Henderson said, he was sleeping in a hotel stairwell--alone, broke and living for one purpose: to get stoned on any kind of drug he could get.

His audience looked incredulous. "You really slept in a stairwell?" asked one young girl.

In the back of the classroom, Irma Morton looked pleased. A prevention worker at the City of Pasadena Substance Abuse Center, Morton had brought Henderson and P. J. Sardelich, both recovered teen-age alcoholics and drug abusers, to talk to the class.

And she was happy with the response.

"Did you see how many questions the kids asked? They really were interested," Morton said.

Morton comes to Eliot Junior High School once a week to teach students how to say no to drugs and alcohol, and to give information on the dangers of abusing either. She uses guest speakers like Henderson and Sardelich, both from well-to-do families, to illustrate to the youngsters that drug abuse knows no boundaries--and that it can happen to them.

Her program is also designed to benefit the instructor. "It doesn't do much good to teach a math class if the kids are sitting there stoned," she said.

Eliot Junior High School was chosen for the program, Morton said, because it is one of the largest schools in the Pasadena Unified School District and has a multi-ethnic enrollment. Also, she said, drug prevention programs are more effective with youngsters between the ages of 11 and 14 because peer pressure and exposure to drugs is not as pronounced as with older students.

Morton's program is one of several offered by the center, an outpatient clinic that offers counseling and treatment to alcoholics, their spouses and their children. Although services for adults are confined to alcohol-related problems, the clinic provides educational and counseling services to youngsters for any type of drug abuse.

Founded in 1966, the center is one of five outpatient clinics financed by the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services that offer medical aid for alcoholism and provide treatment with Antabuse, a drug sometimes prescribed to alcoholics that makes the user physically ill if alcohol is ingested. The clinic's fees are on a sliding scale, based upon what the client can afford.

With a staff of eight salaried counselors and 10 volunteers, the center treats about 200 people each year. The clinic is run by employees of the City of Pasadena and receives its funding from the county's Office of Alcohol Programs. The center's budget for 1984-85 is $265,000.

Besides individual and group counseling, the center provides court-approved rehabilitation programs for first offenders convicted of driving under the influence; a youth diversion program for youngsters with drug or alcohol problems, and educational seminars and prevention programs.

"We are not a detox program," said Joyce Babb, who runs the center. "This is a program wherein someone has been withdrawn from alcohol and they're here to work on staying sober. For the most part, the people who come here are able to stop drinking and find a way to stay sober with the help of counseling."

The center also provides counseling for family members of alcoholics, including their children. "We've had kids in here as young as 4 or 5," Babb said. "Our approach is holistic. We look at the whole person, and good treatment needs to affect various aspects of a person's life, including family and home life."

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