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Health Officials Hope to Give Substance Abusers a Fighting Chance

Sept. 7, 2006 — Dr. Ralph de Chabert started at the beginning. It was 1968 and a patient told him that her husband had a substance abuse problem. When Chabert spoke to the man, he asked him if he had any friends in a similar position, which the man did. The group, which met later that week, became the first substance abuse counseling program in the Virgin Islands.
Chabert's remarks were made Thursday afternoon from under a tent on the front lawn of the Charles Harwood Medical Complex. Health officials were hosting an open house and luncheon to mark National Alcohol and Drug Addiction Recovery Month.
Addressing a gathering of about 20 health professionals, Chabert said back in those days heroin was the drug of choice. He said although the program ran for a short time, they serviced 175 addicts. "The work was very rewarding," Chabert, a retired obstetrician, said. He said several participants of that program went on to be productive members of society and several still thank him for saving them from a life of drugs.
"Alcohol and drug abuse disrupts families, threatens the safety of our neighborhoods, and ruins the lives of countless men, women and youth," said Dr. Denese Marshall, director of the Division of Mental Heath and Substance Abuse.
This year's theme is "Join the Voices for Recovery: Build a Stronger, Healthier Community." The Health department has scheduled several activities throughout the month, including a film festival, an awards ceremony and disseminating recovery information to the public.
Marshall, who is also a forensic psychologist, hopes the monthlong observance will bring the effects of substance abuse into the forefront of the community. She said policy makers and community leaders need to become more aware and assist in expanding the level of services the division provides.
This is the second year recovery month is being celebrated in the territory and the 17th nationwide.
For more information on treating substance abuse and recovery, call 773-1311 ext 3023.
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