Commissioner wants to expand drug treatment

Plans for more services, hiring to cost $20 million

September 23, 1999|By Kurt Streeter | Kurt Streeter,SUN STAFF

Baltimore Health Commissioner Peter L. Beilenson said yesterday that he wants to double the city's capacity to treat drug addicts and expand services for them -- but he needs about $20 million to do it.

"The system as it exists makes sense," Beilenson told 24 directors who primarily receive money from the city, state and federal government through the Baltimore Substance Abuse Systems Inc., the umbrella agency that oversees funding for the city's 39 publicly backed centers. "I do believe we can make positive changes."

Beilenson said he wants the city's capacity to treat addicts to double. Baltimore has an estimated 60,000 drug addicts but only has room to treat about 8,000.

Among the most dramatic changes Beilenson proposed is a plan to put 27 social workers in police precinct houses. They would work with officers to identify and persuade addicts to seek help. He also would expand the hours of BSAS clinics and require them to offer help in finding jobs, housing and day care.

Beilenson proposed that clinics receive more money to hire counselors and that directors receive raises that would bring the average salary to $60,000.

After outlining the proposals -- which would be phased in over three to four years -- Beilenson admitted their implementation would raise the BSAS budget from $33 million to about $52 million. He said he doesn't know where the money would come from, although at least $4 million could be drawn from the state's settlement with the tobacco industry.

Most of the directors responded enthusiastically to Beilenson's proposal. "I'm just surprised it's taken this long to get to these kind of ideas," said Ruth Daiker, director of the Jones Falls Counseling Center.

Pub Date: 9/23/99

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