The Governor's Drug and Alcohol Abuse Commission will zero in on drug-related violence because "a lot of people are fearful that someone on drugs is going to put a gun to them or kill them," the new chairman says.
"We've got to come up with practical solutions and that includes coming down hard -- really hard -- on the guy who supplies and sells drugs," said Dr. Neil Solomon in an interview last night. "The commission needs to think about mandatory sentencing for these people. We have to let them know that Maryland is not a state that wants drug pushers."
Solomon, a physician and former secretary of the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, was named to the post yesterday by Gov. William Donald Schaefer.
The new chairman succeeds Lt. Gov. Melvin A. Steinberg, whom Schaefer removed from the post this summer.
Steinberg has blamed his removal from the panel on a feud with Schaefer. Schaefer administration officials have said the governor was upset that Steinberg used the high-profile chairmanship to gain recognition that would help him if he, as is expected, runs for governor in 1994.
Solomon was meeting with the commission for the first time today at the state office building at 201 W. Preston St. The panel includes some new members brought on board especially to help deal with the drug and violence issues, he said.
"I want to listen to the community and use this information to come up with some kind of a strategy to help resolve these problems for which there is no quick fix, no magic bullet," said Solomon, who served as secretary of the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene from 1969 to 1979.
In announcing Solomon's appointment, the governor said, "Dr. Solomon is a capable hands-on person who can get the most out of a tight budget. His past service as secretary of the state health department and his readiness to take on tough, controversial issues and work closely with the community will serve us all well."
"I'm ready to roll up my sleeves and get to work," said Solomon, 59. "Substance abuse is threatening the fabric of our lives. It's a great privilege to be able to serve the state once again."
One aspect of the problem that he said he will bring up for discussion is how to get rid of the profit in drugs, the motive behind all the violence, without giving the impression of condoning people's taking drugs.
"To pay high prices for the drugs, people go out and steal and do crazy things on the drugs," he said. "You have to get to the root causes why people are on drugs and come up with things you can do to help them get off drugs."
Solomon's interest in drug abuse dates back to 1971 when he was 39 and in his second year as health secretary. He wanted to find out what was behind heroin abuse in high-traffic drug areas in Washington. So, he put on a "hippie" costume to help him mingle with addicts and rode around Washington on a motorcycle.
"They told me lots of things about why they used drugs," Solomon said. "For many, they said it's an escape mechanism. In other cases, they do it to make the profit.
"If a person doesn't have a job, doesn't have a good education, doesn't have good health and doesn't have high self-esteem, they believe they can escape through drugs. They're as wrong as they can be. Nevertheless, we have to face reality. So, we have to have a program that makes sure that jobs, affordable health and education are available for these people -- and that's a big order for tight budgets."
The governor said he wants Solomon to make the public aware of the state's drug- and alcohol-abuse problem, which the new chairman decribes as "very big and on a lot of citizens' minds -- especially the violence." Schaefer also has asked Solomon to solicit ideas from the public for strategies to solve the drug-abuse problem.
Solomon and the commission have a year to come up with a workable plan.
"Working with the community, I think we can do this," Solomon said. "And then, we're going to need public support for whatever legislation is necessary to move ahead."
He said he will continue his private practice while serving in the unpaid chairman's post. He has written several books on medical subjects. His nationally syndicated medical column appears in The Evening Sun.