More money for drug treatment Shifting priorities: City putting up own money to curb crime through health programs.

January 18, 1997

BECAUSE DRUG ABUSE has soured the quality of life in Baltimore, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke has ordered three agencies to take $5 million out of their combined budgets to pay for more drug treatment slots in the city. That is the right thing to do. Indeed, the mayor and the Baltimore legislative delegation should press Gov. Parris N. Glendening for a supplemental appropriation to match the city's effort and expand this important initiative.

City residents have long argued that most of the lawlessness making some neighborhoods unattractive to new businesses and residents stems from addicts hustling enough cash for a fix or drug dealers fighting over who can sell dope where. Reducing the drug problem, lowering crime and making neighborhoods and families more stable could be a key to improving Baltimore's inadequate public schools and slowing urban flight.

Mr. Schmoke has directed the police, housing and health departments to cut their budgets to provide an additional $5 million for drug treatment next fiscal year. It is a desperate move that could lead to layoffs in those departments. But the severity of the crime situation, including a murder rate that rose while other cities had fewer homicides, seems to warrant it. The city should not reduce the number of police officers on the street, but if there are other economies that would free money for more drug treatment they should be implemented.

After Baltimore won its $100 million Empowerment Zone grant in 1994, much of the controversy over how to spend the federal money centered on allocating some of the cash for drug treatment and other social services. It was decided that creating jobs would be pointless without addressing the drug-abuse problem.

The Empower Baltimore board voted to invest $5 million on 1,200 new drug treatment slots. That money will be spent as the village centers train and find jobs for former addicts. Mr. Schmoke says the Empowerment Zone and other city funds may be matched by private foundation grants for drug treatment.

In the meantime, the city is making do with only about 5,700 treatment slots for more than 40,000 addicts. That's not good enough. Baltimore needs more drug treatment to fight crime. For the first time, Mr. Schmoke is investing the city's own money in this effort. That should prompt the governor to get involved in this important undertaking by matching the city's effort dollar for dollar.

Pub Date: 1/18/97

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