Baltimore health chief proposes an overhaul of drug treatment

Some centers might close, the commissioner says

August 19, 1999|By Tim Craig | Tim Craig,SUN STAFF

Baltimore's health commissioner has proposed overhauling the city's drug treatment system -- including closing some of the 39 taxpayer-funded treatment centers -- to treat up to 8,000 more uninsured addicts annually.

Commissioner Peter L. Beilenson said the moves would not require any increase in the $33 million treatment budget used to help 22,000 drug addicts a year in Baltimore. However, he said centers would close to expand the hours, number of beds and services at the remaining centers.

"Right now, we have 39 sites each of which has their own administration structure, rental costs and expenses," Beilenson said. "It just doesn't make sense."

He declined to reveal details of the proposal until he presents the plan to the Baltimore Substance Abuse Systems Inc., which oversees the 39 sites. Beilenson is the chairman of the board.

60,000 need treatments

Baltimore has about 60,000 people in need of treatment for use of illicit drugs among its 645,000 residents. Drugs were a factor in more than 75 percent of the city's 314 homicides last year.

The proposal came as Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke announced a plan to target drug-infested pockets of Baltimore by arresting addicts and giving them a choice between jail and treatment.

Officers who ran a reverse drug sting -- in which people were arrested for purchasing drugs from undercover police officers -- last week in Park Heights offered the treatment option to those arrested. Of 90 people arrested in the Park Heights effort, 19 chose treatment.

Schmoke said he has been looking for a way to make treatment an integral part of the drug fight since his term began. In 1988, Schmoke made national headlines after he advocated drug decriminalization during a speech at a U.S. Conference of Mayors meeting, but in recent years he has switched to the term "medicalization."

"I have been fighting for this since 1988, but we did not have the resources to do it then," Schmoke said at a news conference in Northwest Baltimore. "It took us a while to get all the elements on board. We now know if we just go in and make arrests, they will be right back out here."

Schmoke stopped short of calling for a citywide drug treatment option, saying the city has neither the space for addicts nor the $60 million it would cost. The city has 8,000 treatment slots to reach 22,000 uninsured addicts every year.

Baltimore will need more slots to treat city addicts, Beilenson said.

Under the reorganization of drug treatment centers -- to be coordinated with state corrections-based treatment programs -- all centers would offer narcotics and alcohol treatment, General Educational Development classes, job readiness training, job placement, parental skills classes and day care, family therapy, psychiatric care and housing counseling.

Plan due in few weeks

Beilenson intends to unveil his plan in a few weeks and hopes to begin the reorganization process early next year.

Center officials reached yesterday were eager to see what's being proposed -- but urged Beilenson to move slowly.

"I don't think this can be rushed ," said Frank Satterfield, director of Glenwood Life Counseling Center in Northeast Baltimore, which receives $1 million from the Health Department. "You need to sit down and see the problems that will result. I'm not sure how closing existing sites would meet the needs of the communities. It is difficult to have one desk serve two people."

Sun staff writer Scott Shane contributed to this article.

Pub Date: 8/19/99

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