There's little that's normal about the dynamic of drug and alcohol counseling. The system is underfunded, creating a patchwork of solutions chasing problems; clients are fighting long-term addictions and often relapse. Some counselors, too, have problems that rival their clients', as Multnomah County's InterChange program has learned in recent weeks. One of its lead counselors is accused of having sex with clients and was recently arrested on drug charges.
"It's like a bad soap opera," says Maggie Miller, spokeswoman for the county's Department of Community Justice. InterChange, which opened in 1999 with 50 beds, is the end of the line for addicts caught up in the criminal justice system, routinely serving those who have walked away from other treatment programs.
Multnomah County judges refer clients to InterChange as a last resort to break the vicious cycle of drugs, booze and crime. The program involves six months of inpatient treatment behind locked doors at the old Washington County Jail in Hillsboro (a new 300-bed unit in North Portland won't open until at least 2003) and six months of outpatient care at nonprofit agencies such as Volunteers of America.
"This is the deep end of treatment," says Wayne Scott, manager of the program.
Although InterChange is only 18 months old, it is having a high success rate with its clients, says Scott; as many as 80 percent of its "graduates" haven't relapsed or re-entered the criminal justice system to date.
In March, however, allegations surfaced within the program that a counselor, Jennifer Lamb, had engaged in sex with two clients who'd finished the first half of the program, according to Miller. Although her relationships weren't taking place while Lamb was on the job, they involved people who were still technically her clients.
If true, the conduct would violate both Multnomah County policy and the ethical standards for counselors. Lamb, 33, was unavailable for comment.
But those who know her say there was nothing in Lamb's past to suggest that she was leading a double life. A county employee since 1994, Lamb had passed a criminal background check before going to work at InterChange in 1999 and received her master of social work degree from Portland State University last year. Sources familiar with the situation say she was trusted and respected by her 25 fellow employees.
On March 16, the county placed Lamb on administrative leave pending an investigation. When InterChange staff learned of the charges of sexual misconduct, they were floored. So, too, were program clients. Lamb had been teaching them the religion of recovery--and here she was allegedly violating its precepts of trust. Lamb resigned her $38,000-a-year job March 21.
Things grew worse from there.
On the evening of April 10, she was arrested by undercover police on a MAX train at the Gateway Transit Center for purchasing crack cocaine. Arrested with her was Lavelle Damont Woods. According to a source familiar with the situation, Woods, 31, had flunked out of InterChange and begun a relationship with Lamb. Both were arrested for possession of a controlled substance. Lamb was released on her own recognizance. Woods, who has 22 felony arrests stretching back to the early 1990s, is currently in jail on a parole violation.
Lamb is scheduled to appear in court June 4. In addition, she faces suspension or revocation of her certification as a drug and alcohol counselor.
Since opening in November 1999, InterChange has served 175 clients. Its 2000-01 budget is $2.7 million.