Computer program mapping drug use sparks IBM's interest

July 05, 1992|By Glenn Small | Glenn Small,Staff Writer

An innovative Baltimore County computer data base that maps the county's worst drug neighborhoods has caught the attention of IBM officials.

Begun with $150,000 in state and local grant money, the program, called Substance Abuse Tracking System, or SATS, combines the efforts of the county police department and the county Office of Substance Abuse. IBM officials recently visited the county to see how the system works.

"They are interested in maybe making this into a nationwide system," said Mike Gimbel, head of the county's substance abuse office.

The unique and tricky part of the data base is that it combines police drug arrest information with data about who is getting drug treatment in the county and where the treatment is being given.

While the names, ages and addresses of those arrested on drug charges are plugged into the computer, only general information about people in treatment is entered, Mr. Gimbel said.

The county's 12 publicly-funded drug treatment centers were reluctant to provide information until Mr. Gimbel signed a contract promising not to reveal identities of those in treatment.

"If the clients thought we were taking their names and their addresses, and giving them to police, they would not come for treatment," Mr. Gimbel explained.

One of the data base's main benefits is that it helps police target enforcement efforts and lets drug treatment counselors know where they are most needed.

"The idea is, resources are limited," said Col. Michael D. Gambrill, head of the police department's Field Operations Bureau. "We want to make sure we're putting the resources in the neighborhoods that need them most."

According to the data base, the southeast was the worst region of the county for drug abuse, particularly the Essex and Middle River areas. These areas led all other police precincts, with 121 drug arrests during March, April and May. This area also had the most people receiving drug treatment and the most hospital admissions for drug overdoses.

Mr. Gimbel said he was surprised to see that the Reisterstown area also had a large number of drug arrests in recent months.

Colonel Gambrill said that the data base already has helped police in terms of undercover operations and establishing police-community outreach programs.

"We're doing a lot about it, some of which I can say, some of which I can't say, because I might jeopardize an undercover operation," he said.

Likewise, Mr. Gimbel said that the computer has helped him decide which areas need the most drug treatment counselors, school outreach programs and community education programs.

"I can be real proactive with prevention and treatment services," Mr. Gimbel said. "This gives me the data and the facts."

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