A 'human face' for addiction Black caucus tours Baltimore dTC as part of policy initiative

July 21, 1998|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

An article in Tuesday's Maryland section incorrectly reported that researchers at Johns Hopkins Hospital proposed a study to determine whether heroin should be given to addicts to help prevent crime. The proposal was made by researchers at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health.

The Sun regrets the error.

James Burley didn't get a chance to meet Rep. Elijah E. Cummings or the dozen other members of the Congressional Black Caucus who toured Baltimore yesterday to "put a face on drug addiction" in America.

But the 52-year-old Burley -- a heroin and cocaine addict for nearly half his life -- did see his Washington representatives file into and out of a methadone clinic on North Charles Street.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

"It shows that someone is taking an interest in what is going on in Baltimore," said Burley, who has been in treatment for three weeks. "But Mr. Cummings should have [come] to Pennsylvania Avenue where he could see addiction at its grass roots. He needs to come to where people are suffering."

Baltimore with its estimated 55,000 drug addicts was the first stop for the caucus, whose members plan a nationwide tour of urban and rural America to promote a series of bills to make drug addiction a priority in Congress.

They arrived in a large white touring bus escorted by U.S. Capitol Police and the C-SPAN television network and visited with addicts, doctors and authors, along with the city's mayor and health commissioner.

No specific legislation was proposed after the six-hour visit, but the members concluded what Baltimore officials have been saying for years: Drug addiction is more of a health issue than a law enforcement problem.

"We can win wars. We can win independence in a revolution. We can unite a nation in a Civil War," said Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee, a Texas Democrat. "Are we saying that we cannot fight drug addiction?"

Jackson-Lee called the scourge of drugs and AIDS spread through the sharing of drug needles a "health epidemic," and she said she learned a tough message from Baltimore streets: Addicts need treatment, not jail. "I need to tell constituents, 'You are wrong,' " she said.

The visitors praised Baltimore officials for letting them see an unflattering portrait of the city, which they called a "huge open-air drug supermarket."

Caucus Chairwoman Rep. Maxine Waters, a Democrat from California, said the tour was designed "to put a face on the misery of drug addiction. We all hear how well America is doing, how Wall Street is doing. The misery of drug addiction is being disposed of on the American agenda."

Baltimore has long taken an innovative and controversial approach to illegal drugs. Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke created a national stir shortly into his first term in 1987 when he merely suggested that drug legalization be studied.

In June, Johns Hopkins Hospital made news when doctors proposed a research study in which heroin would be distributed to hard-core addicts in an effort to reduce crime. And Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier has said for years that his department "can't arrest its way out of the drug problem."

Caucus members toured the Moore Clinic at Johns Hopkins, where 12,000 AIDS and HIV-positive patients are treated each year. They visited Man Alive Inc., one of the oldest methadone clinics on the East Coast, at 2100 N. Charles St.

Later, at a luncheon at Micah's Restaurant on Reisterstown Road, they heard from Schmoke and Health Commissioner Dr. Peter L. Beilenson, who talked about the city's needle-exchange program.

Proposed caucus legislation includes money for drug courts, treatment centers and alternative production crops for coca growers in Central America. But caucus members said they left Baltimore with a profound understanding of how drug abuse damages lives.

Baltimore's health department has 7,500 drug treatment slots, which has greatly expanded from under 3,000 about a year ago. Beilenson said the waiting time is now down to 30 days, instead of the two months in the summer of 1997.

Norman Duppins, who runs Ray's of Light acupuncture clinic on Pennsylvania Avenue, came to the Charles Street methadone clinic with Burley and two other patients. All four have a combined 118 years of addiction.

The problem, Duppins said, is people without money end up on long waiting lists for treatment. "If you don't have medical insurance, it's a problem," he said.

Burley, just released from serving three years in a state prison for drug possession and theft, said the only way he got into treatment was by going to a hospital emergency room and faking being suicidal.

"I had to do something very drastic to get taken right away," said Burley, an addict for 30 years who said he has been arrested 41 times in his life, mostly for stealing to get drug money.

"All the times that I got arrested, no one ever saw fit to offer me any treatment," he said. "I had to beg and ask a judge for some help, and he sent me to jail and said I had to work my way into treatment. It was hard to convince someone that I was worth saving."

Pub Date: 7/21/98

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