Funds targeted at drugs

February 03, 1994|By John B. O'Donnell | John B. O'Donnell,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- It was only $3 million -- a drop in the bucket to begin a new fight against drugs in the Baltimore-Washington area.

Nevertheless, the attorney general, the secretary of the Treasury, the federal drug czar, three U.S. senators, five members of the House, the capital's mayor and dozens of federal, state and local officials gathered at a White House annex yesterday for an announcement that the Baltimore-Washington area will get extra federal money for a federal, state and local anti-drug effort.

The initial $3 million installment is a modest sum by federal grant standards, particularly when it has to be divided among two major cities and their surrounding counties. And no one was sure yesterday who will get the money, when it will be distributed or how much more money might be available next year.

A task force will be formed to draw up a plan for spending the funds, and that plan has to be approved first by Lee P. Brown, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

With great fanfare and eight television cameras recording the event yesterday, Mr. Brown announced that he is designating the Baltimore-Washington corridor a "high intensity drug trafficking area," the nation's sixth, under the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988.

The original intent of the program was to target drug "gateways" into the United States, concentrating on major trafficking and money-laundering operations. Yesterday's announcement shifts the emphasis to hard-core drug users, expanding the program to new areas of the country and focusing on "distribution to chronic users."

Federal, state and local agencies will work together to curb drug use through law enforcement, treatment and education, making the Baltimore-Washington effort a prototype that officials hope will spread to other areas of the country.

Mr. Brown cited an analysis by the Department of Health and Human Services that indicates the Baltimore-Washington area is second only to New York in the number of hard-core users."

Yesterday's regional anti-drug effort will be followed by President Clinton's submission to Congress next week of a national drug control strategy that Mr. Brown said also "places special emphasis on hard-core drug users."

"I think the administration is rushing to shore up its drug defenses," said Peter Reuter, former head of the drug policy research center of the Rand Corp. and now a professor at the University of Maryland School of Public Affairs in College Park.

"They are making sure no one confuses them with Joycelyn Elders," Mr. Reuter said, referring to the surgeon general, who has suggested that the legalization of drugs should be studied as a way of reducing crime.

Though the initial grant for the current fiscal year is only $3 million, officials said President Clinton will include additional funds in next year's budget, which goes to Congress next week.

Maryland is positioned politically on Capitol Hill to get its share of the funds. Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, a Maryland Democrat who was credited by several speakers with being the driving force behind yesterday's designation, is chairman of a House appropriations subcommittee that handles these funds. And Democratic Maryland Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski is a member of the comparable Senate subcommittee.

The five high-traffic areas designated in 1990 -- Los Angeles, New York, Houston, Miami and the Southwestern border area -- received $86 million in federal funds for the current fiscal year -- an average of $17.2 million.

Officials refused to speculate on how much money might be designated for the Baltimore-Washington area next year.

Mentioning "budget constraints," Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen cautioned that "we'll have to see what develops."

Nevertheless, Maryland officials who attended the news conference were enthusiastic about the program.

"This is a very positive step to get the Department of Health and Human Services involved," Thomas C. Frazier, Baltimore's new police commissioner, said of the treatment efforts.

"Education is the other major player, because kids are going to make the decision [about whether to use drugs] by the fifth grade."

J. Joseph Curran Jr., Maryland's attorney general, said he was "particularly interested in the comments indicating they are going to make available money for treatment and education."

"A heroin addict who is in treatment is not out there causing us a crime problem," he said.

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