Thursday, May 17, 2007

As chief of drug treatment nonprofit, Jupiter woman helps adolescents

By JOE BONIKOWSKI

Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Pam Middleton has spent 24 years — more than a third of her life — working for Drug Abuse Treatment Association Inc.

"You're here year after year, then you realize that, 'Oh, this is my life!' " Middleton, the executive director of the private nonprofit organization, said from her Jupiter office.

Middleton has lived in Jupiter since 1994. She moved to Palm Beach County in 1979 from New Jersey with her son and daughter.

"I live near the beach," said Middleton, who's divorced and a grandmother of three. "I moved to Florida because of the weather."

She started working at DATA's West Palm Beach office in 1983. "It was a very small, nine-person office," Middleton said. "I was the fiscal administrator and we had a budget of $270,000. Now we have 120 employees, serve a five-county area and have a $5.5 million budget."

DATA's programs are in Palm Beach, Martin, St. Lucie, Indian River and Okeechobee counties. It has two coed residential centers for adolescents in West Palm Beach and Fort Pierce.

And despite its growth, or maybe because of it, Middleton has a goal for her organization: "To put ourselves out of business."

DATA works mostly with kids, but also has some outpatient programs for adults, including a prevention program at the county jail.

"We're more about trying to keep adolescents from spending time in the criminal justice system," Middleton said. "Generally, they have had lots of problems. They've stopped going to school, they've already been arrested, they have lots of problems at home and finally somebody draws the line and says they've got to get help."

Most of the kids in DATA's treatment program are between 13 and 18, Middleton said.

"The kids come from school referrals, the juvenile justice system, sometimes from the families themselves," she said. "When the families are doing it, they're at the end of their ropes."

There are no "typical" substance abusers, Middleton said. They cross economic, gender, racial and social lines.

"The clients who we see are not happy little kids who've had everything they wanted and just chose to do drugs," she said. "There's generally a lot of other issues. There's a lot of physical abuse, sexual abuse, other trauma like losing a parent, broken homes, abandonment issues. We try to look at all of them and work on all of them."

Several Palm Beach County public schools use DATA programs, including: Jupiter, Dwyer and Palm Beach Gardens high schools; Duncan, Independence and Watkins middle schools; Beacon Cove Intermediate; and Jupiter Elementary.

Her organization uses different programs for different age groups. In elementary and middle schools, those programs focus more on staying away from illegal substances in the first place. In middle schools, kids are more likely to experiment, Middleton said. In high school, DATA's programs, "would be more intervention and less prevention.

"At this age, if you're going to use drugs, you're going to be a poly-drug user, which is dangerous," she said. "The top two drugs have consistently been alcohol and marijuana. In the '80s, crack was popular, and lately in the last few years it's been Oxycontin, Xanax and other prescription drugs."

In Florida, Middleton said, only 22 percent of children who need help with substance abuse can get it. The other 78 percent are out of luck.

"That's a Department of Children and Families statistic," she said. "The more resources that come on line, the better it helps everybody."
And that's what she hopes that DATA and other organizations will continue to do — help.

"We've had some great successes, and I'd like to see more of that. I'd like to see the state of Florida put more money into all social services," Middleton said. "The longer you have contact with a client, the better your results are going to be."

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