State must take charge on drug addiction

February 01, 2000|By Kathleen Kennedy Townsend and Dan K. Morhaim

SUBSTANCE ABUSE impacts the lives of every person who lives and works in Maryland, and it costs the state an estimated $5.5 billion a year.

The Maryland Children's Action Network reports that children living in a home with addicted parents are more likely to be abused, more likely to be placed into foster care, and more likely to start using drugs themselves. On top of the destruction of individuals and families, addiction saps the lifeblood out of communities through street crime and domestic violence, unemployment and lost productivity.

The damage addiction causes our society has been known for some time, but now there is a growing consensus that we can do something about it.

FOR THE RECORD - An article yesterday on drug addiction incorrectly identified state Del. Dan K. Morhaim.
The Sun regrets the error.

Public awareness of the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of treatment is beginning to catch up with the research, which is clear in its findings.

The National Treatment Improvement and Evaluation Study and Baltimore City's Drug Treatment Court have shown that treatment significantly reduces criminal behavior, cutting arrests in half. The Treatment Outcomes and Performance Pilot Study found that after treatment, the proportion of clients working increased by 50 percent.

And by now, lots of people have heard the statistic that every $1 spent on treatment saves $7 in criminal justice, health care and other costs.

Public leaders also are increasingly recognizing that high-quality, readily available drug treatment can substantially improve the quality of life of citizens in Baltimore City and throughout the state. Mayor Martin O'Malley is aggressively brandishing the treatment torch that was lit by Kurt Schmoke, making treatment a central focus of his campaign against crime.

Legislative leaders, including House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman and Del. Howard P. Rawlings, have called for more and better treatment. So have the Maryland Association of Counties, the Maryland Catholic Conference, the Abell Foundation, the Greater Baltimore Committee and business leaders like Willard Hackerman. Through its accomplishments with the Drug Court, the judiciary has shown critical leadership for treatment as well.

In December, a statewide task force on drug treatment that we chair issued an interim report that provides a framework to galvanize this growing consensus into action.

The report called for both short- and long-term steps to make universal and immediate statewide access to effective treatment a reality for all of our citizens.

First, we must first provide greater access for the underinsured and those who have no insurance at all.

The task force is taking a critical step in this direction by conducting a county-by-county assessment to identify present gaps in services.

We plan to use the first $10 million of Gov. Parris N. Glendening's $100 million commitment from the state's tobacco settlement funds to establish an emergency addiction treatment fund to meet the most urgent needs. In Baltimore City, we are working closely with Mayor O'Malley to determine how to allocate the city's share of the new funds, including how funding should be split between programs that target criminal and juvenile offenders and those that serve clients from other sources.

Over the next year, the task force is designing a statewide treatment system that will significantly boost the odds that treatment programs will help addicts kick their habits.

The comprehensive system must pull together the current hodgepodge of funding streams, coordinate treatment programs to ensure that clients are matched with the type of program they need, and guarantee that they move seamlessly from one program to another as their treatment needs change.

The task force found significant differences in the performance of individual treatment programs in Maryland; the new system must provide strong incentives for programs to produce the best possible results. A series of public task force hearings beginning this spring will help us get citizens' direct input.

Addiction is among the most complicated and far-reaching challenges Maryland faces today.

For too long, drugs have ravaged the lives of Marylanders with too few places to turn for effective help.

Advocates for each segment of the addicted population share a common goal of reducing the toll drugs take on our society. By working together, we can make sure that every Marylander struggling with addiction is able to reclaim their lives and return to safer families and communities.

Kathleen Kennedy Townsend is lieutenant governor of Maryland. Dr. Dan K. Morhaim is a state senator from Baltimore County.

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