Oval L. Miller Sr.

The Black Alcohol/Drug Service Information Center (BASIC) is a community-based agency that provides comprehensive culturally sensitive alcohol and drug abuse services in the city of St. Louis, Missouri and New Orleans, Louisiana. BASIC was established in 1983, as a pilot project of the St. Louis Foundation for Alcoholism and Related Dependencies. In 1994, BASIC INC became a Louisiana Corporation and replicated the services in Orleans Parish, with initial funding from the Lupen Foundation.

This non-traditional modality included along with Alcoholic’s Anonymous/Narcotic’s Anonymous, the incorporation of the clients culture and areas of emotional pain associated with “cultural survival fatigue” in America. The programs goal is not one of merely cessation of addictive behaviors, but one of positively impacting the lifestyle of people of color, utilizing new and innovative strategies, that increase self esteem, self worth and cultural pride.

The intentional positioning of crack cocaine and heroin in urban communities across the country has caused a loveless, hopeless and purposeless reaction within urban and rural families. In an effort to make a difference, BASIC has become a pioneer in substance abuse treatment, across the country. We have set the standards for other agencies that service non-white substance abusers, if they are to be successful.

Our fingers are forever on the pulse of the community, not responding to crisis but setting the trends and developing prevention strategies to deal with the needs, demands, and problems of substance abuse within the urban community. BASIC has been recognized by local and national organizations as an exemplary model of a proactive and successful community-based substance abuse treatment program.


We were started through the efforts of an organization called the St. Louis Foundation for Alcoholism and Related Dependencies. In 1982 that group spent a year doing a research project on alcohol/drug abuse problems within the Black communities of St. Louis, city.

The results of the research indicated the need for community education, diagnosis and intervention, and aftercare support services.

For the first year of our existence, the original staff of two worked out of the Kingsway Center Building located at 1408 North Kingshighway St. Louis, Missouri.

We had two major goals then: to educate the Black community to the basic dynamics of alcohol/drug abuse, and to assist Black chemically dependent individuals in getting help. Just as the core of our program grew out of a careful analysis of community needs, so has every new program component we have added since that time. While our staff has grown to over thirty and our budget to more than $1 million plus dollars in the past twenty five years, our original goals are still the mainstay of our efforts. 


In 1986 BASIC expanded the services to meet the needs of our clients by providing a Structured Culturally Sensitive Outpatient Treatment component for chemical dependency. We also improved our Aftercare Case Management by adding a computerized program that formalized client follow-up, to assist BASIC management in meeting the needs of our target population.

There are a number of key elements that run through all of our services and are critical to our success. The first key to BASIC services is mobility. We found early on that our community education and prevention activities had to be provided in numerous settings throughout the community. These have included after-Sunday church services, recreational, job training or health care facilities to name a few.

The second key to BASIC’s services is how one program component feeds into other BASIC services. Our community education is a major source of client referrals to our chemical abuse assessments and referral program. This in turn generates a client flow to our Outpatient Treatment Program and aftercare groups. Many clients who are in our aftercare groups then use our family counseling services.
We feel if any one link were removed the effectiveness of the other services could be hindered.

The third key to BASIC programming is the structure of our client flow. Too often organizations lack consistency in their program structure, allowing clients to enter an exit the program at different points. Thus clients are not afforded the full impact of the program. Our program design has a rigid client flow; the client enters at one point and moves uninterrupted to an end point.

The fourth key ingredient to our success is our staff. BASIC staff represents a rich mixture of both recovering chemically dependent and non-chemically dependent individuals. Another indispensable factor to the successful delivery of professional and culturally sensitive services is low staff turnover. This, we have certainly achieved. Over eighty percent of staff have worked at BASIC for eighteen years, some key administrative staff have twenty plus years seniority.

The Black Alcohol/drug Service Information Center is twenty five years old. As we begin our twenty sixth year of service, we celebrate that we have done much more than simply survive; we have established a track record to be proud of and have, in the process, become a national model in our areas of expertise. 

One of the things that make BASIC special and unique is the dynamism that comes from the way in which it established a rapport within the Black community.

When we began, we were the only agency offering comprehensive chemical dependency programs specifically designed for Black people.

Today, twenty five years later we are still the only providers of culturally specific treatment for chemical dependency. Yet we have achieved a large portion of the impact we have hoped for. To put it simply, we have worked to heighten the Black community’s awareness about alcohol and drug abuse and we have provided culturally specific services, both direct and indirect, which have increased the number of Black people entering treatment and increased their odds for achieving sobriety.

We are much bigger, better funded and more sophisticated than we were in the beginning, but we are never very far from our roots. We started with the premise that widespread community problems need community based solutions. No agency, no matter how competent and energetic the staff may be, can carry the whole weight of what needs to be done and create positive change for the community. Success, or steady progress at any rate, is more likely when people across a broad spectrum of the community are asked to become partners in change. Accordingly, since its inception BASIC has operated on the premise that its role should be that of catalyst, liaison, instigator, and evaluator or information center. The success of all our programs rests strongly on the level of community awareness and response we are able to stimulate. When our programs are working as they should, our efforts “leverage” a much greater amount of ongoing activity in the community at large.

A good example of this agency’s community partnership is the development of our training and public education programs. The 1982 research project that led to the creation of BASIC indicated that the main access point for Black people to treatment facilities was the criminal justice system. The research also showed that Black people who did enter treatment were doing so at more advanced, more difficult to treat stages of dependency than non-blacks. Further information gleamed from canvassing Black neighborhoods indicated a low level of awareness about chemical dependency and the availability of treatment resources. In response, one of BASIC’s foremost concerns became providing earlier, alternative access points to primary chemical dependency treatment facilities by educating people who are the very sources for help outside of the family in the Black community; ministers, human service agency personnel and members of civic organizations. Our approach has been two tiered, for social service agencies, we have developed an eight hour skills training seminar. It aims to give agency personnel enough expertise in the detection of chemical dependency and its stages that they can make good referrals and connect the clients’’ families with the appropriate resources. A shorter, less detailed workshop series is offered to other community people who may not need extensive training, but who want to understand the nature of dependency, it impact on the Black community, and learn about the services BASIC and other agencies provide.

That ever growing network of people has helped, in turn, to educate many others on its own. It has helped us assist predominantly White treatment programs do a better job with Blacks and other minority clients, just as it has helped predominantly Black programs become stronger. That network, along with our volunteers, friends and board members, past and present, are the reason we have been able to help over 10,000 people in the city of St. Louis and New Orleans on the road to recovery since we began. 


In 1994, BASIC was solicited by the city of New Orleans, Louisiana to implement our culturally specific treatment for alcoholism and drug dependency within Orleans Parish. The Mayor, Sidney Barthelemy and several members of the New Orleans City Council, traveled to St. Louis and reviewed the program along with numerous conversations with agency staff and clients. BASIC staff met with Governor Roemer and garnered his support that eventually led to the implementation of substance abuse services.  After careful consideration the request was formalized and the City of New Orleans gave BASIC a three story building to provide our services. The State of Louisiana also provided initial funding at the request of the Governor at that time the Honorable Edwin Edwards. BASIC of Louisiana thrived and produced measurable results, as the Alumni of New Orleans continued to exemplify the outcome of culturally specific treatment. On August 29th, 2005 BASIC of Louisiana suffered major damage as Hurricane Katrina unleashed millions of gallons of water and winds clocked at one hundred twenty five miles an hour struck New Orleans. Eighty percent of the city was flooded, thousands of people were left stranded in their homes, property damage in the billions and over one thousand people killed. BASIC of Louisiana staff and clients were evacuated to other parts of the country and the organization for the past two years has struggled to rebuild and reopen. The City of New Orleans has engaged in dialogue with BASIC of Louisiana management in an effort to hopefully reopen and begin to provide the needed services to the residents. The future looks bright and we are all optimistic that we can continue our mission to the deserving communities of Orleans Parish. 



There is probably no single element that has had more impact on the criminal justice system and individuals residing in St. Louis or New Orleans in recent years than the influx of drugs particularly crack cocaine and heroin. The criminal justice systems response has been to focus primarily on underclass and immigrant populations. Open air drug markets and crack houses in low income neighborhoods have served as a flashpoint, encouraging vigilantism and serious internal divisions within urban communities on how drug abuse should be stopped. For the most part, the answer has been simplistic: more jail cells and longer prison terms.

It is clear that this society’s approach to drug use has been to treat it as a crime rather than as an illness. Yet, with this punitive approach, the problem has only worsened. Resources that could easily have been directed towards establishing community-based culturally sensitive mental health centers, drug treatment centers, more and better ways of treating addictions and employment alternatives for young people who work the drug trade, have gone instead towards building more prisons, hiring more prison guards and police officers. It is imperative that the focus be shifted away from punishment and incarceration, towards a deeper understanding of why so many people in our urban communities feel the need to take such risk to escape into oblivion.

Dr. Silas Lee, Pollster and Communication Strategist, describes New Orleans and St. Louis as exotic and intoxicating cities. From the distinctive culture, fun, food and festivals, to socially and economically diverse neighborhoods, both are cities of contrasts and contradictions. An aura of tranquility anesthetizes the pain of many, as poverty and inequality coexist with prosperity, in the cities too often referred to as the “Big Easy” and “The Gateway to the West”.

The celebratory culture and accepting nature conceals communities with a troubled soul. Behind the mask of serenity reside two divided communities---not just by race, but also social and economic demographics, which liberate some and trap others in the iron cage of inequity. Dr. Lee’s review of the social and economic data from the 2000 census for New Orleans revealed some alarming concerns. It is apparent that both communities are confronted by the challenges of the future, yet haunted by the problems of their past. In the past twenty years, New Orleans has observed an overall growth in the median and per capita income of residents with distinctive results by race. As the median white family income exceeds that of black median family income, the per capita income among African American residents remains at the poverty level. The associated effect of this low-income attainment, concentrated in the majority group of this cities population produces a chilling reality. Aside from handicapping social economic development, the morale and spirit of many citizens are consistently overwhelmed by despair and hopelessness. It is my humble opinion, after twenty plus years working with African Americans suffering from substance abuse problems, that this type of social environment ultimately becomes the breeding ground for the escalating mental health crisis, continuation of destructive, non-productive lifestyles that impact all of us. 

St. Louis was recognized as the “most dangerous city” per capita residents in the United States, along with its sister city New Orleans who was recognized as the murder capital, in the United States per capita residents. The cycle of death is given birth within our urban communities and thrives on lack of jobs, lack of healthcare centers and the illusionary wealth of the drug trade. The following is a list of facts that give foundation for declining quality of life for African Americans:

In conclusion the following is a pre-requisite for change: