Efficacy of city's drug rehab questioned

Governor not sure treatment funds are used wisely

April 22, 2000|By Scott Shane | Scott Shane,SUN STAFF

Gov. Parris N. Glendening does not have confidence that Baltimore is spending drug treatment funds effectively and will not release additional treatment money until a planned audit of treatment programs statewide is complete, the governor's spokesman said yesterday.

Replying to criticism Thursday from Baltimore Health Commissioner Dr. Peter L. Beilenson, the spokesman, Mike Morrill, defended the $8 million increase in state funding for drug treatment in the city as "extraordinary." He said the 57 percent boost in funding is a larger proportional increase than almost any other program received.

"Everybody in Annapolis, including the governor, wants to see greater accountability for the money that's already being spent," Morrill said. "The governor has no confidence, until we see the results of the audit, that a large increase in funding can be spent effectively and efficiently."

The audit, announced in March, will be conducted by the state departments of budget and health and will compare the effectiveness of different treatment programs. It will be designed by the Maryland Drug Treatment Task Force, which is headed by Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend.

One question auditors will ask, Morrill said, is: "After all this spending on treatment, why are we being told that the number of addicts hasn't changed?"

Morrill also raised questions about some numbers provided over the past four years by Baltimore Substance Abuse Systems (BSAS), the organization overseen by Beilenson that coordinates all publicly funded drug treatment in the city. He cited documents indicating that the number of people treated had barely increased between 1996 and 1999 despite a substantial increase in funding.

Beilenson, who along with Mayor Martin O'Malley had sought $25 million more for drug treatment in the city, called the $8 million increase "woefully inadequate" Thursday. He suggested that treatment was getting scant attention because addiction most severely affects poor neighborhoods that are politically powerless.

Beilenson did not give ground yesterday when told of the governor's reply. He said the percentage increase in state funding seems large only because the base is small.

jv0 "If you're funding things at a completely inadequate level and you bring it up a little, of course it's a big percentage," he said.

He said he could not explain the statistical anomalies Morrill noted without consulting his staff and BSAS, which was closed yesterday for Good Friday. But he said study after study has shown the effectiveness of drug treatment in reducing drug use and related crime, and that BSAS collects data every month from the programs it supports.

He also said this week that he hd begun a new system to hold treatment programs accountable. Called DrugStat, the system is modeled on the Police Department's ComStat program to track crime.

Beilenson said three or four treatment program directors will be called in each week and asked to explain statistics showing apparent weaknesses. He said the first such meeting, with directors of three methadone programs, was held Thursday.

"I'd be extremely surprised if any county in Maryland has anything like the level of oversight we have," he said.

O'Malley staked out ground between his health commissioner and the governor yesterday in the dispute over treatment funding.

"I think Dr. Beilenson expressed the frustration that many of us feel about the huge need for drug treatment dollars," O'Malley said. "I share his frustration, but at the same time I'm grateful for the additional $8 million."

O'Malley said he welcomed the state audit and was confident it would find Baltimore's treatment system operating effectively. "Any human system is capable of improvement. But the fact of the matter is that our system is the best in the state," he said.

The mayor said he has faced similar skepticism in Annapolis on other issues, including lead poisoning and crime.

"The lack of confidence in BSAS is the same lack of confidence the state has in our ability to spend any public money effectively," he said. He said the doubts were prompted by failures before he took office in December but that the city will prove it can manage programs efficiently.

Of Beilenson, who was appointed by former Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and kept on by O'Malley, he said, "Peter is a person who, not unlike the mayor, sometimes wears his feelings on his sleeve. ... But I'd prefer he'd leave the lobbying of the governor to me."

Beilenson said the number of people treated for drug abuse in publicly funded programs in Baltimore increased from about 11,000 in fiscal year 1997 to about 18,000 in fiscal year 2000. Morrill, the governor's spokesman, said BSAS documents show that its programs treated 16,342 people in fiscal 1996 and 16,812 in fiscal 1999, a period when funding was nearly doubled.

Jim Graham, a BSAS manager, said the agency did not collect its own data until 1997, so the 1996 data was probably collected by the state health department.

The questions about drug treatment in Baltimore are sure to arise at a hearing of the Maryland Drug Treatment Task Force on Monday from 6 to 9 p.m. at War Memorial Hall, 101 N. Gay St.

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