More drug treatment centers

October 26, 2006

The City Council is finally ready to correct the discriminatory zoning laws that have long put drug treatment centers at a disadvantage compared with other medical clinics. A vote set for next week should allow Baltimore to comply not only with federal law but also with basic fairness.

Federal courts have determined that under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Fair Housing Act, substance abuse treatment centers should be held to the same zoning standards as health care facilities such as doctors' and dentists' offices. In Baltimore, however, drug treatment providers have had to secure City Council approval before opening a center in an area for which it is zoned.

This practice has discouraged new and innovative treatment providers from coming into a city with an estimated 60,000 addicts. After years of foot-dragging, the council gave preliminary approval last week to a bill that would expand the definition of health care clinics to include substance abuse treatment centers and would also remove the approval requirement.

The council's renewed attention to the issue was a result, at least in part, of a ruling in August by a federal jury that Baltimore County violated the ADA when it enacted a zoning law - aimed at a Pikesville methadone clinic - that restricted state-licensed medical facilities from locating within 750 feet of homes. Rather than risk a similar losing court battle, City Council President Sheila Dixon successfully pushed for consensus on changing Baltimore's zoning law, which will make it easier to place drug treatment centers mostly in business and industrial areas (where other medical clinics tend to locate) but not necessarily in strictly residential areas. What's more, it should also make it easier for drug users to get help.

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