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Detention Center Grapples with Growing Number of Youths Addicted to Methamphetamine

by and on November 12, 2019 5:00 AM

The Central Counties Youth Center is the only facility of its type in the center of the state, away from the large hubs of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Located at 148 Paradise Road in Benner Township, and operated jointly by Centre County and the surrounding counties of Mifflin, Clinton, Huntingdon and Clearfield, it also provides a resource for 10 other counties in the broader surrounding area that need to provide a safe, secure place for children involved in the criminal justice system. It can house up to 14 juveniles at a time.

Centre County commissioner Steve Dershem said at a recent board meeting that the facility is struggling with the growing number of youths coming into the facility addicted to methamphetamine, and providing the medical care that is needed to help them as they come off of the drug.

“One of the challenges that has recently developed, and I think we have seen it across the spectrum from adults and children, is that there’s been a movement from heroin to methamphetamine. One of the sad consequences of methamphetamine and its use and addictive properties is that when an individual, particularly a child, has a methamphetamine addiction, the detoxification program and the detoxification process that it leads to can be quite stark,” Dershem said. “It is something that usually can involve a psychotic reaction. And often times it is something that doesn’t include just one episode, but continues over the course of several days.”

And while CCYC has a nurse who comes into the facility, it contracts with an outside agency to provide other medical care needs. CCYC does not have the nursing capacity 24 hours a day, seven day a week, which Dershem said is needed for the juveniles.

Because they are seeing more children who are addicted to methamphetamines entering the facility, Dershem said, “We are struggling right now to find a solution to providing care for those children that is not only safe for them, but also appropriate in the court’s views.”

Dershem said discussions have been had among the five counties involved and judges in those areas to find a solution to the problem.

“We continue to have that ongoing conversation with the courts, but the challenge is, what do we do with these children in the interim?” said Dershem. “As we move forward, trying to come up with solutions that will work for everybody and provide a safe environment for the children, because there is another element, because not only is it tough on the staff and the children that are going through the program, there are kids in the facility right now that this provides a trigger, and when you have kids going through this level of psychotic reaction to the stimulant, there are a lot of issues. It is not that you can just put them in the hospital.”

Commissioner Michael Pipe said there are resources statewide the county could possibly use.

“There are many entities across the state that house juveniles and we are looking at other resources that can be brought to bear for secure housing. Simply put, it is a facility (CCYC) for the detention of them, not the treatment. I think we can start to view this as the next phase of incarceration or the next phase of treatment,” said Pipe. “So, if we can find locations across the state to take children with addictions who cannot be at our center, then we can hopefully have a release valve that will allow them to recover, be detained and then once they are released, not re-enter the criminal justice center.”

Dershem said he believes finding a solution is in the best interest of the county because having the facility keeps it from having to transport the juveniles long distances.

A solution to the current problem may be found with dialog from the counties, and he asked for patience from the staff at the facility until a solution could be found.

“Quite frankly, this is almost terrorizing to the employees up there,” Dershem said, “because this is something that they’re not really trained for, or made to deal with on a routine basis.”

This story was produced by the staff at the Centre County Gazette. It was re-published with permission. The Centre County Gazette is a weekly publication, available at many locations around Centre County every Thursday morning.

Vincent Corso is writer for Town&Gown and the Centre County Gazette.
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