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Drug Rehab Probe Expands

* State officials join local agencies looking into substance abuse reports after people in recovery programs are evicted.

May 09, 2000|PETER M. WARREN and DANIEL YI | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

The state on Monday joined local agencies in probing allegations of drug use at a Santa Ana alcohol-and-drug treatment center, where dozens of residents were ousted over the weekend.

Officials at the state Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs, which licenses residential treatment facilities, confirmed that an investigation was underway involving the treatment center, on North Cooper Street, operated by Cooper Fellowship Inc. But they declined to discuss details of the inquiry into the Cooper Street cluster of about half a dozen adjoining group homes, where Cooper Fellowship is licensed to treat as many as 71 recovering addicts.

Cooper Fellowship also operates another facility nearby, on North Euclid Street, a so-called "sober living" facility for people finished with rehabilitation programs or probationers or parolees required to live in a drug-free environment. It also was the target of investigators who searched the premises with drug-sniffing dogs early Saturday. Residents on probation with the county were required to take a drug test and told they needed to find other lodgings or risk violating terms of their probation.

"This is an issue we are taking very seriously," said T. Maria Caudill, spokeswoman for the state agency. "We were notified by the county and we are following up."

John Bowater, chief deputy probation officer for Orange County, said his department is conducting an investigation into possible criminal violations at the treatment center on North Cooper Street and the sober-living complex on Euclid Street. He declined to comment on specific allegations involving the treatment center or the sober-living complex, where probationers, parolees and recovering drug or alcohol abusers pay $280 a month in rent.

But Richard Bonner, an attorney for Cooper Fellowship, strongly denied the allegations of drug use at the fellowship's facilities, saying authorities were overreacting to claims by a disgruntled former employee.

"This raid was nothing but a fiasco," Bonner said Monday, adding that only one of a total of 44 probationers from both facilities who were tested Saturday turned up positive for drugs, and that the drug-sniffing dogs found no evidence of drugs at either location.

Bonner called the single test an early vindication.

"That is a very low 'dirty' test rate when you consider these people have just recently begun the process of recovery," he said.

However, Bowater said the tests conducted Saturday were not conclusive and that final results would not be available until the end of the week. "It could be one, it could be 20. We don't know at this point," he said.

Bonner said that all staff members are routinely screened for drugs and are fired if they test positive.

County probation and health care officials descended on the two Santa Ana facilities just before 7 a.m. Saturday, telling residents that they had to move to other county-approved facilities. Twenty-four recovering addicts at the Cooper Street rehabilitation center were told their treatment no longer would be subsidized if they remained there. And 44 probationers spread between the two facilities were told they would be violating their probation if they remained.

The county first began investigating complaints earlier this year that required drug tests were not being done properly on residents at the Cooper Street facility, a county official said. That problem apparently was fixed, but an investigation was renewed last month amid new reports of improprieties.

Caudill said the state agency was first alerted Friday by county officials about alleged improprieties at the treatment center. The Cooper Fellowship treatment center was licensed by the state in 1989 to provide counseling, treatment and recovery support. She said there have been no previous complaints or findings against it.

The Cooper Street facility is a live-in rehabilitation center for drug and alcohol abusers. Many of the residents take part in a 42-day, $40-a-day treatment program paid for by the county.

The Euclid Street apartment complex, which provides a sober-living environment for recovering addicts, does not require state licensing. Some of the residents come from the nearby treatment center, while others are on probation from County Jail or parole from state prison. Most ex-inmates must live in a drug-free environment as a condition of their probation or parole.

On Monday, the Euclid complex was largely vacant. No one used the pool in the center of the quadrangle. About 45 people had moved out, leaving about 15 still in residence in the 25 shared apartments, manager John MacDonald said.

Residents at the treatment center were referred to other county-contract facilities, said Sandra Fair, acting deputy director of the alcohol and drug division of the county Health Care Agency.

By the end of the day Monday, 13 had been placed with other programs and five had asked for placement. At least 21 had chosen to stay at the rehabilitation facility or made other arrangements, she said.

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