Conference to focus on helping drug, alcohol addiction

November 03, 1992|By Jonathan Bor | Jonathan Bor,Staff Writer

In a city where an estimated 30,000 people shoot drugs, there is no shortage of fodder for a daylong conference on addiction. But to Dr. Joshua Mitchell, chairman of Saturday's forum, "The African American Perspective on Substance Abuse," one issue surpasses all others.

"The critical issue is to find out exactly where you can send these people to get help," says Dr. Mitchell, a family physician from Baltimore. "We're going to discuss how you can help them yourself, and how to work with other providers in taking care of these people."

Baltimore, he noted, has only 5,200 slots in programs offering outpatient and inpatient therapy or methadone maintenance. And, the outlook is getting dimmer, with the planned cuts in Medicaid coverage threatening to put treatment beyond the reach of hundreds if not thousands of addicts.

Much of the conference, starting at 8:30 a.m. at the Stouffer Harborplace Hotel, will be oriented toward African American doctors, therapists and other professionals seeking to help drug addicts and alcoholics. It is being sponsored by the Monumental City Health Department, an association of black physicians, and the Baltimore Health Department.

One panel will focus on alternative treatments, including acupuncture. Another will probe the controversial proposal to offer clean needles to drug addicts in hopes of stemming the spread of AIDS.

Other speakers will discuss the possible roles played by melanin in drug abuse. Melanin is the brown, black or yellow pigmentation that determines skin color.

Dr. John Chissell, a retired family physician who will moderate the panel, said the low self-esteem felt by many African Americans in the face of racism have caused many to turn to drugs. Therapists need to address this problem if they wish to help their patients get off drugs.

"It is based on the notion that if you have more melanin in your skin, it makes you inferior."

But Dr. Chissell said he is also interested in the notion that melanin actually absorbs toxic substances such as cocaine and heroin, putting darkly pigmented people at a heightened risk for addition.

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