'Take back our street,' urges chairman of anti-drug panel State, Federal funds and a change in priorities are needed, Solomon says.

November 06, 1991|By Sue Miller | Sue Miller,Evening Sun Staff

"The streets have been taken over by the criminal elements of the drug lords and we're going to try to take them back," says the new chairman of the restructured Governor's Drug and Alcohol Abuse Commission.

But this can't be done without funds and, unless there is some change in state and national priorities, the 56-member panel will not be able to make a dent in underage drinking and drug-related crime and violence, warns Dr. Neil Solomon, the physician-chairman.

"We're going to evaluate state programs and state priorities and even the national priorities," Solomon told the panel last week at a meeting at Towson State University. It was the first meeting of the newly reconstituted panel, which now has broader citizen and governmental representation.

Throughout the state, the panel will evaluate current drug- and alcohol-abuse treatment programs and "take what is good and incorporate it in other programs and close down the bad," Solomon said. "This will not be a typical bureaucratic group."

Although the federal priorities have been overseas, he said, "I think it's time we returned these priorities so we can take back our streets."

"That's the kind of thing I'd like you to evaluate," he said. "Could some of the funds we now send overseas better be spent in taking back the streets? And I say literally taking back the streets because that's where it has gotten in part of this state."

If some of the federal money comes back to the state, the commission will use it for prevention, education, jobs, treatment and health, Solomon said, and that will give Maryland "a shot at turning things around."

"I really think we can make a difference if we combine brain power, creativity and hard work," the chairman said. "We have a real problem out there, but we can get to the bottom of it and we can resolve it. We can't stop the drugs from coming in, but perhaps we can dry up the market here."

The governor wanted a commission that would be primarily made up of citizens and would have minority and female input, said Solomon, who served as secretary of the newly created State Department of Health and Mental Hygiene from 1969 to 1979.

For the first time, almost half of the panel -- 25 members -- will be citizen representatives and another 115 citizens with special expertise have volunteered to serve as ad hoc committee members. Of the 23 public members that already have been appointed, nine are minorities and six are women. The citizen members include clergymen, a dentist, a surgeon, a hotel manager, businessmen, a public defender, homemakers, a psychiatrist, a state's attorney, an Hispanic recreation specialist, lawyers and accountants.

Gov. William Donald Schaefer also sought "fresh ideas," so inclusiveness rather than exclusivity "will be the name of the game," the chairman said. And, Solomon said, it was also the governor's idea "to incorporate evaluation into this group."

The governor also wanted to have every state department represented on the panel and not one is devoid of this problem, the chairman said. And, the General Assembly is included "because we will need their help as lawmakers and with funding."

Del. Elijah E. Cummings, D-City, told his panel colleagues, "I'm excited about being on this commission because everyday in my neighborhood I see the pain -- the pain that drugs bring. Because the pain is so widespread and there's so much death as a result, it could not have been worse if we'd dropped an atom bomb."

The commission is to have six subcommittees, each headed by a vice chairman.

The committees are:

* Education -- chaired by Paul Walter, a Baltimore lawyer. The committee will educate students in public and non-public schools about the dangers of alcohol and drug abuse.

* Prevention -- chaired by Del. Cummings -- will focus on problems such as underage drinking, prevention of acquired immune deficiency syndrome among sexually active teen-agers and alternatives to crime and violence.

* Employment -- chaired by Lisa Lynn Mervis, an attorney. Solomon said this committee will present youths with ways to make money legitimately rather than by "running dope."

* Health -- chaired by Dr. Gary Nyman, a psychiatrist. This committee will enlist family doctors to treat substance abusers.

* Crime control -- chaired by Dennis Donaldson, of the State House executive department. The committee will discuss legal issues such as drug decriminalization and the distribution of clean needles to drug abusers to curtail the spread of AIDS.

* Administrative -- chaired by Allan C. Alperstein, a certified public accountant. The committee will evaluate drug- and alcohol-abuse programs to determine which are working and which aren't and recommend where to put state funds.

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