'I just want treatment' Addict makes plea outside conference on drug policy

November 18, 1993|By Sandy Banisky | Sandy Banisky,Staff Writer

Inside the posh Harbor Court Hotel, an international cast was gathering yesterday morning to debate drug policy. But pacing on the sidewalk outside was a real expert.

"Drug Addict," read the hand-lettered cardboard sign William Kemp carried. "Need Help."

Forty-one-years old, a heroin addict for 26 years, Mr. Kemp heard that the International Network of Cities on Drug Policy conference was convening at the Harbor Court and decided to head there to look for assistance.

"I need treatment," he said. "I want to tell the mayor."

Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, a co-sponsor of the drug conference, believes that the war on drugs -- with its emphasis on arrests and jail -- has failed.

Had Mr. Kemp, in his parka and baseball cap, been in the carpeted ballroom with the 80 guests, he would have endorsed their stand.

"I have to agree with the mayor," he said. "The way we deal with addicts is all wrong."

Baltimore has an estimated 35,000 intravenous drug users but only room for about 5,400 in treatment programs. Mr. Schmoke is urging the Clinton administration to provide enough federal funds to treat 10,000 addicts.

That was, in fact, one of the themes of the two-day conference, co-sponsored by the Washington-based Drug Policy Foundation. The meeting brought together participants from North and South America, Europe and Australia -- all of whom agree that new policies must accept that some drug abuse always will trouble society and addicts must be helped, not jailed. Prison, they believe, should be reserved for violent offenders and drug traffickers.

The participants agreed that cities must develop new policies, such as needle exchange programs to limit the spread of AIDS and laws that allow the use of small amounts of drugs such as marijuana. Blanket prohibitions on drug use don't work, they said.

"What the prohibitionists have done," said Michael Moore, an elected official from Canberra, Australia, "is become the friend of the drug traffickers."

But the Clinton administration disagrees with calls from some conference guests for legalization of drugs. And yesterday Washington sent a representative to warn the group that it should not expect any strong shift in national policy.

R. Grant Smith, who heads a State Department office for international drug issues, quoted Lee Brown, the director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy: "Legalization is a form of self-destruction. The administration is unequivocally opposed to any 'reform' that is certain to increase drug use."

Strong law enforcement, Mr. Smith said, must continue, along with more treatment.

But Mr. Kemp, in his one-man vigil outside the hotel, said law enforcement that targets addicts is wrongheaded. "I'm 41 and I just want treatment."

Like the experts inside the hotel, Mr. Kemp understands drug policy. His lawyer, Peter Lewis, says Mr. Kemp reads one, sometimes two, newspapers each day. Mr. Kemp, a veteran with a high school education and some college, can discuss British drug regulations in the 1960s and U.S. drug laws in the 1920s.

He said he can work -- as a waiter, a laborer, a construction worker -- on methadone maintenance. But he was bounced from his last program because of a dispute with his counselor, he said, and another treatment program he's called has a waiting list of several months.

He's buying methadone on the street for about $50 every two days, he said. But he worries that he won't find the money for street methadone much longer or that he might relapse and use heroin again. "I don't have a real big life, but the life I have I want to keep," Mr. Kemp said.

"If nothing else at this time, we need more clinics," he said. "People go to prison while they're waiting to get into a program."

Said Mr. Lewis, "He wants to get off the stuff and off the street and wants to wean himself eventually from all illegal substances. But he can't take advantage of a program because there is no program. He's demanding, and I think he has some right to demand, long-term, in-depth treatment."

Mr. Kemp did manage to grab the attention of the mayor, who noticed his sign as the mayoral car pulled up at Harbor Court yesterday.

"He is a classic example of our supply-and-demand problem with regard to treatment," Mr. Schmoke said. "If he does not get treatment soon, he's going to be a candidate for petty crime."

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