Funding is found for drug centers

Temporary aid to keep 220 slots in city from closing

`Scrambling' for money

June 09, 2000|By Scott Shane | Scott Shane,SUN STAFF

About 220 Baltimore drug treatment slots threatened by cuts in city spending will be preserved at least through July using $250,000 from the city health department, Health Commissioner Dr. Peter L. Beilenson said yesterday.

And Mayor Martin O'Malley said he is working to find another $1 million to keep the slots open for the entire fiscal year, though that may require trimming a number of other city programs.

"We're still scrambling around for a way to make this work," O'Malley said. The mayor, who has fought for greater state funding for treatment, said he does not want "to give up the high ground" by reducing the city's contribution.

Notice of the loss of $1.25 million in city money went out last week to Baltimore treatment programs, which made plans to close slots and lay off counselors when the current fiscal year ends June 30. The shortfall was caused by the end of a three-year treatment expansion that former Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke ordered in a push to provide immediate treatment to all addicts who seek it.

One treatment advocate said the reprieve is welcome. "It's very important to us that the city maintain a financial commitment as well as a policy commitment," said Ann T. Ciekot of the Maryland chapter of the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence.

Health officials estimate that 60,000 Baltimore residents, or about 1 in 8 adults, need treatment for addiction to heroin, cocaine or other illicit drugs. Theft by addicts to support their habits is a major source of crime in the city, and most shootings are linked to the street drug trade.

There are about 6,500 treatment slots costing more than $26 million in the city, but many programs have waiting lists.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening and the General Assembly approved an $8 million increase in drug treatment money for the city. But the new state money is intended for treatment expansion and will not be available until at least September.

Beilenson said the $250,000 had previously been allocated by the Health Department for purchases of vehicles, office supplies and other items. "We've decided this is a higher priority."

The slots in jeopardy include outpatient counseling for 210 clients at several programs, residential treatment for six women at a program run by John Hopkins Hospital in East Baltimore and four residential slots for detoxing from heroin at the Hopkins Bayview campus.

At Harbel Prevention and Recovery Services in Northeast Baltimore, officials have made plans to close 50 slots and lay off at least three employees.

A gap in funding, even if payments are ultimately restored, could be extremely disruptive, said Cristine Thompson, a Harbel program specialist.

"These are drug addicts, and they don't have a lot of stability in their lives," Thompson said. "If you take a person out of treatment and then a month later expect them to come back, that's not realistic."

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