Early next month, two vans will be driving through the streets of East and West Baltimore dispensing methadone to about 100 heroin addicts as part of a five-year drug treatment program, which, if proven successful, could be eventually be expanded to treat some of the city's estimated 35,000 heroin addicts.
The Mobile Health Service (MHS) project is being funded by a $5 million grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). It will also provide health referral services to community residents for other illnesses, including diabetes, AIDS and high-blood pressure, from two trailers, which will be located on parking lots of local churches.
Neither trailer will be used to store or dispense methadone.
The mobile program is patterned after a similar two-year program in Brockton, Mass., where vans are being used to serve addicts while allaying community concerns about loitering addicts at fixed-site programs, as was common during the 1970s.
"We can't have a fixed-site program in Baltimore," said James A. Dorsey, program director with the non-profit Institute for Behavioral Studies, which will help run the MHS program. Addressing a meeting of East Baltimore community residents last night at the David Memorial Baptist Church, Mr. Dorsey said, "We've got people who can't get into treatment programs. It's how we deliver it that will make a difference."
He said the goals of the program, to be run jointly by the city Health Department out of the Francis Scott Key Medical Center, are to identify, treat and counsel addicts, while decreasing criminal behavior, cutting heroin abuse and the spread of AIDS through the sharing of needles.
Program Community Representative Jacqui Height told residents that the program will operate in the ZIP code areas of 21213, 21218, 21215, 21216 and 21217 because 1990 census information showed those areas to have the highest concentration of people being presented to drug treatment facilities.
Under the program, the vans would drive to still undetermined sites between the hours of 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. each day, where only addicts living in those areas would receive one dose of methadone once a day. Identification cards would be required to receive the free doses.
The program was viewed by the small group with some skepticism, but little opposition. Such is not expected to be the case when the program is presented before a meeting of the Oliver Community Association on July 18, where several community leaders have already expressed their disapproval.