More slots needed for residential treatment

Beating drugs: City programs show promising results, but too many addicts still cannot get in.

February 05, 2002

ALONG-AWAITED academic evaluation has confirmed what already was obvious: The more effective Baltimore City's drug treatment programs are, the more crime and fatal overdoses drop.

The evaluation, conducted by researchers from the University of Maryland, Johns Hopkins University and Morgan State University, was released last week. It reported a 79 percent success rate over a 12-month period for methadone, a synthetic drug used to wean addicts from heroin and cocaine.

Mere counseling was less than half that successful.

The results may be obvious, but they can only make a difference in this city if the Baltimore Substance Abuse System (BSAS), which oversees taxpayer-financed treatment programs, molds its policy to reflect them.

Most immediately, that means boosting the number of residential treatment slots in the city to break hardcore addicts' habits.

Already, half of Baltimore's 7,500 taxpayer-funded slots are in programs that use methadone to treat heroin addicts. Various types of counseling programs account for most of the balance.

But Baltimore for years has had only one major residential treatment facility, Tuerk House, which has a paltry 75 beds. An additional center will open in March in the Park Heights Avenue corridor, but its 124 beds are an insignificant improvement in a city that has the nation's worst heroin problem. Some 55,000 adults here are estimated to be addicted to drugs or alcohol.

While it's true that it's difficult to create more residential treatment centers because many neighborhoods don't want them, there are some encouraging signs of a turnaround in that attitude.

The Park Heights community, for example, supported the conversion of the bankrupt Greenspring Nursing and Rehabilitation Center into a residential treatment Center that will open soon. The community realized that treatment offers the best hope for a turnaround in addicts' personal lives.

This recognition must be shared more widely. Treatment offers promises that jails, which have few meaningful anti-drug programs, cannot achieve.

On the menu of treatment options, Baltimore comes up way short when it comes to residential treatment. This is a deficiency BSAS must rectify with dispatch.

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