A broader drug war

August 01, 1991

The most recent drug-use statistics, which show the number of crack addicts rising faster in Baltimore city than in the notoriously drug-infested suburbs of Washington, are downright frightening. Why, everyone wonders, is crack use spiraling here while it is dropping virtually everyplace else?

Treatment officials can only offer speculation. No matter. The focus of the debate ought to be less on the cause of the problem than on the response. The new statistics, released by the state's Alcohol and Drug Abuse Administration, are an ominous warning that graver problems are to come -- AIDS, drug-addicted babies and crime to name the most obvious. Still, the city's plight, however grim, is only part of the story.

The state data also show that both crack use and IV drug use are skyrocketing in Baltimore County, once considered a haven from the perils of urban life. Just two years ago, for example, 179 countians sought help for their crack habits at area treatment programs. In the year that ended June 30, some 428 county residents sought treatment -- almost three times as many. The number of drug-related deaths in the county also soared; 35 men and women lost their lives last year as a result of drugs. When drug-related deaths in the county are added to those in the city, they account for nearly 70 percent of all drug-related deaths in the state. Similarly, three out every four IV drug users in Maryland live in Baltimore County or Baltimore city.

For all the bafflement, the new data on drug use make two obvious points. First, crack and heroin do not respect neat, geographical boundaries. Second, anti-drug strategies must reflect that reality. The drug war simply cannot be effective unless the city and the county coordinate policy and law enforcement efforts, treatment and prevention programs -- in short, unless there is a total interchange of ideas and resources.

Mayor Schmoke and County Executive Hayden should immediately convene a city-county coalition to hammer out a new, cooperative approach before crack and heroin seep even farther into the populations of both jurisdictions.

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