Pubdate: Mon, 27 Jul 2009
Source: Baltimore Sun (MD)
Copyright: 2009 The Baltimore Sun Company
Authors: Robert Weiner and Zoe Pagonis
Note: Robert Weiner is former spokesman for the White House National 
Drug Policy Office. Zoe Pagonis, policy analyst at Robert Weiner 
Associates, was a 2008 Maryland Governor's Citation recipient for 
policy development.
Bookmark: (Drug Courts)
Bookmark: (Treatment)


When It Comes to Treatment, the White House Should Put Its Money 
Where Its Mouth Is

In Baltimore last week, new U.S. drug czar Gil Kerlikowske made the 
case for expansion of drug courts to treat rather than imprison 
addicts and called for drugs to be considered a "public health crisis."

Why, then, is the Obama administration proposing to spend an even 
higher percentage of its anti-drug resources on law enforcement than 
the administration of George W. Bush?

Nowhere are these issues more resonant than in Baltimore. Felicia 
"Snoop" Pearson, a star of HBO's The Wire and a native of the city, 
said that her mother stole clothes off of her body for drug money and 
locked her in a closet. Darius Harmon, an 18-year-old 
learning-disabled boy from Baltimore, was killed in April by the 
Black Guerrilla Family gang because he was not good at selling drugs. 
Despite recent progress, the Drug Enforcement Administration in March 
found that Baltimore still has more drug-related crime than any other 
city in the nation.

Mr. Kerlikowske has said, "It is only through a balanced approach - 
combining tough but fair enforcement with robust prevention and 
treatment - that we will be successful in stemming both demand and 
supply of illegal drugs." Yet, in the 2010 budget, there is a 3.3 
percent reduction in treatment and prevention initiatives since 2008, 
exacerbating the bias toward enforcement, which now represents 65.6 
percent of the budget, even higher than the last administration's 62.3 percent.

With 20.8 million Americans needing treatment but unable to get it - 
by some estimates, 30,000 in Baltimore alone - Congress should double 
the $5 billion currently budgeted for prevention and treatment. If we 
can spend $6 trillion to shore up our financial institutions and a 
trillion on Iraq (only to discover that al-Qaeda is actually in 
Afghanistan), increasing drug treatment to stop the main catalyst of 
crime and save families would be an extraordinarily rational policy shift.

Treatment is cost-effective. According to a study commissioned by the 
U.S. Army, for every dollar invested in drug treatment, taxpayers 
save upward of $7 in crime-related reductions due to less 
incarceration and hospitalization. This $5 billion investment thus 
translates to real savings of $35 billion for American taxpayers.

Participants in the Baltimore City Drug Treatment Court were 
re-arrested 34.5 percent fewer times than other offenders, and the 
court found a 36 percent return on the initial $8 million investment. 
The federal government should extend drug courts to every possible community.

Ron Hunsicker, President of the National Association of Addiction 
Treatment Providers, agrees Congress must increase treatment funding 
but cautions that we must not allow insurance companies to just 
"shift the cost to the federal government" and that treatment must 
cover "not just an acute model but chronic care" to stop recidivism. 
Both Hunsicker and former Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey agree that drug 
treatment must be included in the pending national health insurance reforms.

Enforcement initiatives certainly have their place. Baltimore 
experienced a 9 percent decrease in overall crime over the past year, 
thanks to a $13.9 million boost in police force funding, 
D.C.-Baltimore regional cooperation, a drug bust involving 70 arrests 
and participation in the federal High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area 
program. The point here is not to disparage law enforcement - a key 
part of the very real reductions in national crime and drug 
statistics - but to add to essential treatment efforts that will get 
at the rest of the remaining serious problem.

According to the Justice Department this May, 68 percent of arrestees 
in 10 cities tested positive for illegal drugs. As long as there are 
addicts and drug abusers, people will buy and sell drugs.

Maryland Democratic Congressman Elijah Cummings, chairman of the 
Congressional Drug Caucus, asserted, "Drug abuse and related violence 
have destroyed whole generations in our community." Gov. Martin 
O'Malley agreed, noting, "It is our obligation to ensure adequate 
treatment." Ted Gest, president of Criminal Justice Journalists, 
states in his book, Crime and Politics, "Tough law enforcement 
usually wins out because it is easier to put into motion, quantify 
and explain to the public."

President Barack Obama is right to increase the National Drug Control 
budget by $224.3 million, but the focus is not where it's needed 
most. If they really want to stop crime and prevent addiction, the 
administration and Congress need to give prevention and treatment 
programs far more standing in the nation's drug control budget.
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake