Beyond denial

May 04, 2002

THE CITY'S first new residential addiction treatment center in three decades has 135 beds and is said to be the largest facility of its kind in Maryland. But neither of those is its chief distinction. What makes it highly unusual in the United States is that residents in the lower Park Heights neighborhood actually asked the drug facility to locate there.

"Denial produces fear of looking at yourself honestly. This is the first community that has broken through that denial," said Michael B. Harle, whose nonprofit organization, Gaudenzia Inc., runs the center. It also operates treatment programs in 42 other cities.

Perhaps the lower Park Heights area residents acted out of desperation. After all, they see every day the destructive consequences of drugs -- from thievery and aimlessness to gun fights. They also have come to realize that treatment offers the best hope of breaking the cycle of addiction.

Few other areas are as ready to acknowledge they have a problem -- or that a solution exists. Just a few miles farther northwest, Baltimore County residents continue to resist plans to locate two methadone centers near their homes.

Their stormy opposition is predictable. But to contend, as some opponents have, that Baltimore County -- with its handful of programs -- has no unmet treatment needs is plain ludicrous. In fact, publicly financed treatment providers in the city say at least 13 percent of their clients come from other jurisdictions, mostly Baltimore County.

No one knows for sure the extent of the drug scourge here. But it's widely estimated that in addition to the city's 55,000 addicts, a similar number live in the surrounding counties. Conclusion: No community can afford to pretend the problem doesn't exist.

The crisis has progressed beyond denial. To their credit, Park Heights residents have shown the courage to acknowledge that.

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