Treatment leaders

June 07, 2006

They have come from across the country to share their experiences - health commissioners, drug and alcohol center directors, case managers and many others who try to help substance abusers get rid of their habit and lead normal lives. A two-day conference that starts today will offer a useful cross-exchange of information on drug treatment strategies that can make cities such as Baltimore become more effective in dealing with substance abuse.

According to at least one national estimate, only 9.9 percent of nearly 23.5 million Americans who were classified as needing treatment for substance abuse or dependency in 2004 received it. Now the White House, desperately seeking to cut discretionary domestic spending, has proposed reducing federal treatment funds in the fiscal 2007 year budget - a proposal that is unquestionably counterproductive.

This week's conference, co-sponsored by the Open Society Institute, the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the city, aims to highlight some success stories, such as Seattle's needle exchange program, which has gotten more intravenous drug users into treatment and recovery, or San Francisco's use of primary care physicians to provide office-based treatment, thus expanding treatment options.

Baltimore has also launched some model programs, including Threshold to Recovery, which tries to help addicts stay focused on rehabilitating themselves before and after they receive treatment. A combination of expanded and varied forms of treatment in recent years helps account for yesterday's announcement that deaths of city residents from drug intoxication were the lowest in a decade, down to 218 in 2005 from 260 in 1995 and a high of 328 in 1999.

But like many major cities, Baltimore has a treatment gap, with only 23,320 of an estimated 60,000 addicts having received treatment in 2005.

OSI, which is pushing for Maryland to come up with an additional $30 million a year to provide more addiction services statewide, wants half of the money to be spent in Baltimore to allow 3,500 more addicts to be served here each year. State officials should take their cue from OSI founder George Soros, who is pledging $10 million to help cities across the country build more comprehensive drug treatment programs. It's called leadership.

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