Governor faulted on drug rehab funding

City's health chief sees urgent need for $25 million more

`Woefully inadequate'

April 21, 2000|By Scott Shane | Scott Shane,SUN STAFF

Baltimore's health commissioner lashed out at Gov. Parris N. Glendening yesterday, saying the governor hasn't provided nearly enough money for drug treatment to make the city's streets safe and to protect children from the chaos of addicted parents.

Dr. Peter L. Beilenson and Mayor Martin O'Malley, who has pledged to close 10 street drug markets by June, had asked for $25 million more a year in state funds to try to eliminate the wait for treatment in a city where about 1 in 8 adults is an addict.

Glendening provided $8 million in additional funding for treatment in the city out of $18 million statewide; most of it from the state's tobacco settlement.

Beilenson said the state's priorities are skewed, noting that the $8 million is about equivalent to $7.5 million the state has agreed to spend over the next three years to build a stadium for minor-league baseball in Aberdeen. He said drug treatment carries less political weight because the neighborhoods most affected are poor and predominantly African-American.

"If there were an epidemic like this in Guilford and Roland Park -- the kind of devastating addiction we're seeing in `The Corner' -- there would be a lot more than $8 million made available," Beilenson said, referring to the HBO television miniseries depicting drug addicts in West Baltimore. "This is woefully inadequate."

Beilenson made his remarks at a board meeting of Baltimore Substance Abuse Systems (BSAS), which oversees publicly funded drug treatment in the city and which he oversees as chairman.

A spokeswoman for Glendening called Beilenson's criticism of the amount of new drug treatment money "really outrageous."

"That $8 million represents a 57 percent increase in state money for treatment in the city," said Michelle Byrnie, Glendening's press secretary. "The state is certainly doing its part to help the city cope with drug abuse."

The city spends about $26 million on 42 treatment programs. That is double what it spent four years ago, but nearly all the increased spending came from city funds and private foundations, not from the state.

About 6,600 treatment slots are available, serving up to 18,000 people a year. But health officials estimate about 60,000 Baltimore residents need treatment, and long waiting lists remain for many treatment programs.

Beilenson said the fact that drug abuse is the underlying cause of most of the city's crime is well accepted. But he said the impact on schools is not fully appreciated, his experience at the health centers in city public schools suggests.

Beilenson said he recently saw a 12-year-old girl at a city middle school who reported to the health center in a state of exhaustion and depression. Her father was shot to death in a drug dispute and her mother, also an addict, is in and out of jail.

The girl and her 6-year-old brother have been left with their frail 77-year-old grandfather, leaving her the burden of shopping for them and caring for her brother.

"Easily half the students I see have had one or both parents removed from the household by incarceration, AIDS or violence, all of it related to drug abuse," Beilenson said.

He has proposed spending the $8 million on 825 slots for people seeking treatment voluntarily and 825 more for people required by the courts to enter treatment. In addition, the money would cover short-term "detox" -- a few days of medically supervised withdrawal from drugs -- for about 3,000 people.

Several BSAS board members said the quasi-public agency needs to sell the value of drug treatment to skeptical taxpayers.

"I think we do a poor job of making the public aware of the facts," said Robert C. Embry Jr., president of the Abell Foundation.

The agency has been criticized in the past for collecting too little data about the effectiveness of its treatment programs, a shortcoming it has begun to remedy.

In February, the board was given statistics showing Baltimore programs on average retain addicts longer in treatment -- a key measure of success -- than most programs nationally. For example, BSAS methadone programs retain 85 percent of clients at least three months, compared with 70 percent in two large national studies. After 12 months, retention in Baltimore is 52 percent, compared with 44 percent nationally.

Yesterday, the board was given the first data from a long-term study of hundreds of Baltimore addicts by experts from the University of Maryland, Morgan State University and the Johns Hopkins University.

The data show that addicts interviewed before and after entering treatment reported that their drug use, spending on drugs and crimes they committed to get money for drugs plummeted in the first month of treatment. Though both drug use and crime increased after six months, both remained far below the rates when the addicts entered treatment.

"If they need less money for drugs, they commit fewer crimes," said Jeannette L. Johnson, director of substance abuse research at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

To increase public awareness of drug treatment, BSAS hired Lisa G. Atkinson, a public relations person with Baltimore health agencies, as advocacy and communications director.

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