Recovering a population lost

March 02, 2000

Q: Drug treatment for uninsured and indigent addicts in Baltimore -- of which there are legions -- is virtually non-existent. What price do we pay for denying an addict who wants to get clean access to detoxification and rehabilitation?

Fear and damage

Tom Trigg, director of the Cathedral House Re-entry Program, an eight-week addiction treatment program housed at Emmanuel Episcopal Church on Read Street in Baltimore:

We're paying a high price, from the fear of citizens who live outside the city, their fear of coming into the city, to the [damaged] lives of people that live in the midst of it. You need a continuity of care to change a lifetime of habits that are not just about drugs. It's shortsighted to think we're saving money by locking people up. You would think that people in government would have seen by now that this problem will not go away with a short-term fix.

Drained resources

Hector Torres, spokesman, Baltimore City Fire Department:

I find it hard to believe that we do not provide treatment on demand with the knowledge we have of what this problem is costing us in crime and destroyed families. I see city resources taxed because of drug addiction and drug crime. A significant number of our medic calls are for drug overdoses. It's not exactly like pulling a false alarm, but when we respond to an OD -- even though it's a legitimate emergency -- it takes resources away from other work. If we could alleviate them, it would benefit us across the board.

Caught in the loop

Sharon Reuter, graphic designer, community activist, Ridgelys Delight:

It's a lousy situation we're in now. Addicts who don't get treatment plague the city with crime. They don't get help so they steal. Treatment is key, clinics are key, but the individual has to decide to do something about their problem when they hit rock bottom. I see it all the time -- people saying they want to get straight and go away for a while, come back and their on the street again. I don't know if the person wasn't sincere enough or the rehab failed but the whole thing keeps going around and around.

Young lives wasted

Michael Seipp, director, Historic East Baltimore Community Action Coalition:

I'm not a big fan of treatment on demand because [most] treatment programs don't take into account the whole picture. First, let's make treatment more comprehensive, beyond simple de-tox, which is often just a respite for addicts to catch their breath before they go out again. This problem is costing us property, kids who absorb and reflect the dysfunctional adults around them and a loss of dreams by kids who then play havoc on our school system. You have homeowners in what should be stable, working-class neighborhoods walking away from homes that are paid for. Every day we have addicts and alcoholics asking for help in changing their lives only to be told they have to wait. Some are conning the system; others want to clean up.

City in ruins

Pat Blake, Urban Services member and community activist in Pigtown who has watched loved ones destroyed by drugs:

You can't put an amount on the price we're paying. People go away for 28 days and on the 30th or 31st day they're back on the street with no job, no place to live and no skills and doing anything they can to get a dollar for a fix. We're spending money now on these programs with no follow-up. I'm 69 and sometimes I feel like I have used drugs myself because of the close encounters I've had with these people. It doesn't just affect the addict, it affects everyone who knows them. Drugs are destroying this city.

Overtaxed agencies

Mike Burdinski, general handyman, neighborhood activist, Butchers Hill:

I see people continue to be addicts for most of their lives. I see people younger than me who look 50 or 60 years old, and they keep going back to it. I'm totally in favor of treatment on demand, but until there's lots of money for treatment and schools, the police and courts aren't going to make a difference. If they dispose of half of their cases in 24 hours like [Mayor Martin] O'Malley wants, its not going to take addicts off the street. As long as dealers and addicts remain nonviolent, they will not be a priority.

Interviews were conducted by

cf01 Sun reporter Rafael Alvarez.

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