Lane, battler against drugs, dies

July 21, 1994|By Joe Nawrozki | Joe Nawrozki,Sun Staff Writer

Richard Lane, a former Highlandtown heroin junkie who rose to national prominence in a battle against the chemical demon that once possessed him, died Wednesday at his Baltimore home after a long fight with cancer.

Mr. Lane, 58, was executive director of Man Alive Research Inc. at 2100 N. Charles St., a methadone-based drug treatment program that he and Dr. Emmett Davis founded in 1967. He had been executive director since 1975.

"Richard Lane was a fabulous example, living proof that you can change your life and make a stunning difference in the lives of many others," said Dr. Torrey C. Brown, volunteer overseer of the Man Alive program and Maryland's secretary of natural resources.

City Councilman Anthony J. Ambridge has been volunteer president of the Man Alive board of directors since 1976 and knew Mr. Lane well.

"Richard was the genesis and gave direction to the place," said Mr. Ambridge, a 2nd District Democrat. "He was a compassionate person who helped lead Man Alive to be one of the best programs of its kind in America."

In his youth, Mr. Lane concocted elaborate scams to procure narcotics to keep him high. Later, he was a competent and

compelling witness before committees in Washington and Annapolis, where he testified in favor of humane treatment for hard-core narcotics addicts.

Mr. Lane was a champion of treating addiction with methadone, a synthetic narcotic that blocks the euphoria of heroin and allows addicts to live relatively normal lives without resorting to crime to support their habits. Opponents of methadone treatment argue that it merely replaces one addiction with another.

"He believed in methadone -- it saved his life," said a longtime friend and former addict who went on to become president of a successful local business but spoke on condition of anonymity.

"He did more for treatment advancement, getting more money allocated, than most bureaucrats because he genuinely knew the subject and really, really cared about the underdog."

Mr. Lane's father died several months before he was born in East Baltimore. His mother was a meatpacker and cutter in the Esskay factory in Highlandtown while she reared Mr. Lane and three brothers.

Mr. Lane told friends that he met the first love of his life -- heroin -- when he was 15.

"It wasn't long before we all were out at Fayette and Lakewood, down on Broadway, shooting dope and hanging out with our droopy eyelids," said his longtime friend.

Heroin addicts are known for being resourceful and manipulative when they are working for their next shot, and Richard Lane developed a masterly scam.

"Richard, ah, collected lots of uniforms, which gave him access to public places like pharmacies," the friend said. "He would put on a uniform, grab a clipboard, walk in a drugstore and see to it that everybody knew he was there to read the electric meter. While he was there, he'd clean out every bottle of morphine he could locate."

One another occasion, his friend recalled, an acquaintance who worked in a laboratory at Johns Hopkins Hospital smuggled out an experimental concoction of morphine and cocaine that was being used with animal experiments.

"We got bottles of it, and both of us nearly died, several times because it was so powerful," the friend said.

Mr. Lane served an eight-year sentence in the Maryland Penitentiary for a drugstore robbery.

When he was released from prison in 1967, he met Dr. Davis, a private general practitioner who used methadone to treat Mr. Lane's opiate addiction. From that point, Mr. Lane devoted his life to helping thousands of other addicts and educating the public about methadone.

Also in 1967, Mr. Lane met Charlotte Johnson, who was also a heroin addict. With the aid of methadone, the pair abandoned their love of heroin and fell in love with each other.

They celebrated their 23rd wedding anniversary Saturday.

"I want to say a thousand things about us. . . . Richard touched so many lives that people will never know," Mrs. Lane said.

She said doctors operated on Mr. Lane's stomach tumor when cancer was first diagnosed in 1989, and the disease appeared to be arrested. He played racquetball regularly and watched his diet.

About five months ago, Mr. Lane began losing weight, and doctors found that tumors had spread through much of his body.

"He did know he was dying," his wife said. "We took a trip away, and Richard settled the things he wanted settled. He had developed a tumor on his liver and elsewhere in his body.

"He swore that he'd never take narcotics again, but there was a lot of pain associated with his disease. The doctors gave him lots of drugs for his pain. But the day before he died, he took his methadone."

He is also survived by several nephews and nieces.

A memorial service will be held at 8 p.m. tomorrow at the Ruck Funeral Home, 5305 Harford Road.

Memorial donations may be made to the American Cancer Society.

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