Privatized anti-drug plan posed Schmoke outlines $26 million effort to step up treatment

No money pledged yet

'It is going to take quite a consensus,' mayor admits

April 05, 1996|By Robert Guy Matthews | Robert Guy Matthews,SUN STAFF

Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke has drafted an ambitious $26 million plan that calls for doubling the size of treatment programs for drug addicts, an alternative to imprisonment that he wants the private sector to help fund.

As part of the plan, Mr. Schmoke would greatly expand the controversial methadone maintenance program by adding 1,100 more treatment slots for heroin addicts. There are about 2,400 now.

He also wants to make it easier under state and federal laws for physicians to dispense methadone from their private offices. And he seeks more intensive treatment, like longer inpatient stays and more hours of therapy each day.

The plan, a copy of which was obtained by The Sun yesterday, is beginning to be circulated to a private panel of political, business and medical leaders who are studying alternative approaches to drug enforcement. The group includes Mr. Schmoke.

The mayor, who maintains that jailing addicts is costly and ineffective, completed the plan on March 22. It is, in essence, a wish list, because there is no money in the city budget to implement it. And no money has yet been pledged by the private sector.

But Mr. Schmoke hopes that money from private sources, coupled with state and federal funds, will become available to launch his program.

"I would like to see this occur, but it is going to take quite a consensus to be developed before we could get it to happen," Mr. Schmoke said yesterday, referring to the task of getting agreement on the plan among city residents and leaders.

Even if funds were available, implementing the mayor's plan wouldn't be easy. "This is not as simple as it sounds," said Dr. Peter Beilenson, the city's commissioner of health, noting that physicians would have to be trained to dispense methadone under tightly controlled circumstances.

There are an estimated 50,000 addicts in Baltimore, and Mr. Schmoke wants to make available a variety of treatment, including inpatient and outpatient programs.

He proposes slots for 360 to 500 drug abusers in residential programs that include detoxification centers, intensive counseling and a boot camp-style community for recovering addicts. There are 3,000 proposed slots for outpatient programs and 300 for mentally ill substance abusers.

Currently, there are 4,900 treatment slots; about 15,000 people are treated annually. The budget is about $16 million, but that includes some money for treatment of alcohol abusers.

The mayor's plan is the latest in a series of moves by city leaders who say that Baltimore needs new solutions to its drug crisis. The City Council is studying legislation to decriminalize possession of drugs. Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier has said that jailing minor drug abusers is clogging the judicial system and keeping officers off the streets.

"This [plan] is truly medicalizing the problem because you are treating it as a health problem rather than trying to arrest your way out of it," said Dr. Beilenson, who researched the proposal for Mr. Schmoke.

Of the current 4,900 drug treatment slots, 4,500 are filled by referrals from the criminal justice system, according to the report.

Mr. Schmoke said yesterday that the plan is similar to one that he submitted while leading the Mayor's Working Group on Drug Policy Reform in 1993. That group recommended that the mayor implement what is now a nationally praised needle exchange program, which gives clean needles to addicts.

Most members of the panel that is studying the drug problem -- which has kept its intentions and meetings closely guarded -- have not received their copy of the mayor's report.

According to documents obtained by The Sun, which detail what went on during the group's two meetings thus far, panel members agreed that drug addiction should be treated as a medical rather than a criminal problem.

City leaders on the panel include Dr. Morton I. Rapoport, chief executive of the University of Maryland Medical System; Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend; Robert C. Embry Jr., president of the Abell Foundation; Dr. Solomon H. Snyder, director of the department of neuroscience at Johns Hopkins Hospital; and Cardinal William H. Keeler, head of the Baltimore Roman Catholic Archdiocese.

Pub Date: 4/05/96

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