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County substance abuse center opens

20111007_JOHN-AUSTIN-PENA-SUBSTANCE-ABUSE-CENTER_EPG_0116EDINBURG — A new light of hope was lit for families struggling with drug addiction this week.

The John Austin Peña Primary Care & Substance Abuse Treatment Facility held its grand opening on Tuesday with members of state Rep. Aaron Peña’s family whose son would have turned 27 this week. He died at the age of 16 in a drug overdose.

Joining the Peña family were other individuals who dealt with drug addiction. Also in attendance were several county officials and state representatives who helped work toward building the facility, a first of its kind in the Rio Grande Valley.

The facility is located off of East Richardson Road, a six-acre donation from Hidalgo County Precinct 4. Funds – $3 million – for the construction were approved in 2007.

Hidalgo County Judge Ramon Garcia said the facilities access for Valley families was key in the development of the center.

“If they needed help, they couldn’t find a place if they couldn’t afford it,” Garcia said. “If you wanted to get assistance from the state, you needed to go to Laredo or Corpus Christi.”

Matt Feehery, the board president of the Texas Association of Addiction Professionals, said a facility in the region would make a huge difference in how the community deals with and ultimately overcomes substance abuse problems in its youth.

“Treatment works, prevention works,” Feehery said.

This facility is for adolescents only on an outpatient basis with services like anger management, cognitive behavioral and life skills may be included in treatment related to a specific issue of substance abuse.

Families dealing with the juvenile probation system will be able to coordinate with SCAN, Inc that will provide testimony affidavits or any documents necessary for court proceedings and trials.

The John Austin Peña center will accept private pay and private insurance, Medicaid, CHIP and the county’s indigent program.

Eddie Olivarez, the county’s health director, said the county plans to continue building on the facility and construct dormitories in the future.

Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, the author of the bill rider that authorized the Texas Department of State Health and Human Services funding for the facility, said the community needed to address substance abuse as a health issue and not a criminal one.

“It permeates our society,” Hinojosa said.

Peña, who was joined by John Austin’s daughter Chelsea, said the opening of the center provided healing to his family.

Admitting that drug addiction wasn’t in the forefront of his mind before his son’s death, Peña said his son’s death opened his eyes to the lack of local options. When struggling families asked Peña where they could send their children for help with substance abuse, he hesitated to respond.

“I had no answer,” he said.

As he approached other state leaders and departments, he was told substance abuse was a personal issue, but Peña said the community should help a person identify the tools to fight substance abuse.

“People have been down this road before, but you can recover,” he said. “Texas does not build brick and mortar facilities, but you have one right here.”

As a parent who’s lost a child, Peña said he’d be the first to admit the area’s children have problems with substance abuse.

“We can’t sweep it under the boards, anymore. We have to care for the person that’s next to us,” he said. “We have to build facilities like this and we have to fund them.”

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