Baltimore's syphilis crisis Nation's highest infection rate: City's dubious distinction stems from drug abuse.

January 15, 1998

FALLING CRIME in Baltimore has added to speculation that the drug abuse linked to other criminal activity also may be declining. However, a new statistic shows illegal drugs still create a ripple of problems: Baltimore has the nation's No. 1 syphilis rate among major cities.

Most of the syphilis cases are concentrated in poor neighborhoods where women are trading sex for crack cocaine. Baltimore reported 80 cases of syphilis per 100,000 residents in 1996, compared with second-ranked Memphis' rate of 46 per 100,000.

The latest syphilis report has prompted Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke to declare a public health crisis that will require the city to spend more money to discover and treat syphilis cases. An important indirect step to fight syphilis was taken last year when Mr. Schmoke ordered three city agencies affected by the volume of drug abuse -- police, housing and health -- to take $5 million out of their combined budgets to help pay for more drug-treatment slots.

The mayor now says he may ask the state to fund even more drug-treatment beds. It would be money well-spent. Reducing crack cocaine addiction is crucial to improving Maryland's quality of life.

Pub Date: 1/15/98

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