Protesters decry budget cuts Cuts could change substance abusers into "predators."

October 08, 1991|By Thomas W. Waldron | Thomas W. Waldron,Evening Sun Staff Marina Sarris contributed to this story.

They've been unlikely allies fighting the Schaefer administration's budget cuts -- uniformed state police and an eclectic band of drug addicts and alcoholics.

For a few days last week, they stood shoulder to shoulder in front of the State House in Annapolis, hoping to catch the conscience of legislators.

While the troopers' plight -- layoffs, barracks closings and reduced Med-Evac helicopter service -- has caught the public's attention, many officials say the massive cuts to drug- and alcohol-treatment programs pose the greater threat to public safety.

"If you're not providing care, they're out on the streets as predators," said Dr. David N. Nurco, a research scientist at the University of Maryland's Department of Psychiatry. "They get involved in crime to support their habit."

Nurco has studied the criminal habits of addicts in Baltimore and found that drug users who are not in therapy commit six times as much crime as those who are. His research showed that addicts are typically arrested for less than 1 percent of the crimes they commit.

Michael D. Golden, spokesman for the state health department, said it was not clear what would happen to addicts and alcoholics whose treatment programs disappear.

"Some will probably end up in jail," Golden said. "Or in our mental institutions or out on the street on their own."

Gov. William Donald Schaefer last week announced $450 million worth of budget cuts, including $11.9 million in drug-treatment programs.

The cuts will mean the end of nearly all publicly supported residential drug-treatment facilities across the state, as well as reductions in outpatient addiction programs. More than 1,000 residential beds that serve almost 7,700 substance abusers every year will disappear.

The cuts would also force the closing of two State Police barracks and the firing of 54 uniformed troopers. Another 29 trooper trainees will have their training terminated next month and will not be offered jobs.

The barracks that will close, Security in Baltimore County and College Park in Prince George's County, mainly handle traffic enforcement on major roads, according to Lt. Johnny Hughes, spokesman for the State Police.

The only criminal cases they investigate are those that troopers actually witness or cases in which a citizen specifically asks for State Police help, he said.

Hughes said the Golden Ring and Glen Burnie barracks would have to expand their patrols to make up for the lost manpower at Security.

A powerful group of legislators has made it clear it will find a way to restore as much as $3.8 million to avoid State Police firings, barracks closings or cutbacks in Med-Evac service.

"I personally think the State Police . . . was a major mistake," said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George's. "It sends the wrong message: 'We're not going to protect your person and we're not going to protect your property.' "

"I think there are a lot of people who think the most fundamental role government ought to fulfill is to protect public safety," said Del. Ellen R. Sauerbrey, R-Balto. Co., the House Republican leader.

But legislators who want to find money for the drug programs have not been nearly as visible. That is shortsighted, said Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, D-City.

"That's a disaster," Hoffman said. "You cut out all drug treatment, you clearly will have more crime, more people hospitalized and institutionalized. It's so inhumane, it's almost not worth talking about."

State officials have found that a majority of people in state-funded drug and alcohol-treatment pro

grams have an arrest record. Of the 56,000 people who were treated last year, 64 percent had been arrested the previous 24 months, according to the state drug and alcohol abuse administration.

Anita Yopp, 28, was one of the recovering addicts who protested budget cuts outside the State House last week. She held a sign that asked, "What happened to the war on drugs!"

"I'm in treatment at the Hope House," said Yopp, of Baltimore. "We will have nowhere to go. We won't get the treatment that we need.

"I need this treatment center because my kids need me."

The Hope House, a residential center in Crownsville, is scheduled to close Nov. 30, said treatment director Ruth Hudicek. Currently, 21 addicts are staying there for an average of 28 days each before moving on to outpatient programs.

The Baltimore Recovery Center, a 127-bed program scheduled to close next month, has been a place of "last resort" for uninsured indigents who need alcohol- and drug-detoxification services, spokeswoman Betsy Horn said.

"Eventually the addict will do about anything to get drugs," said Chris Hathaway, the center's director.

"I don't want to get into an adversarial role with the troopers, but the impact on public safety will be a lot greater because of the cuts to treatment programs than the 83 troopers," Hathaway said. "I think it's hard for people to see the long-term picture."

Administrative Judge Joseph H. H. Kaplan of the Baltimore Circuit Court said that with cutbacks in affordable treatment programs, judges will face a dilemma -- send offenders to already overcrowded prisons or back to the streets.

"These people will be going back to the streets without anything to help them along to manage in society," Kaplan said.

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