Pubdate: Wed, 7 July 1999
Source: Baltimore Sun (MD)
Copyright: 1999 by The Baltimore Sun, a Times Mirror Newspaper.
Author: Robert A. Herman (assistant professor of psychiatry at the
University of Maryland School of Medicine)


The Sun's two-part editorial (June 27-28) on efforts to fight drug addiction
in Baltimore deserves praise for calling attention to a major public health

Unfortunately, it missed the point. Drug abuse treatment (whether coerced or
voluntary) has been shown repeatedly over the past 30 years to be quite
effective in reducing drug use, crime and HIV transmission.

Finding fault with Baltimore for not "proving" that treatment is effective
is unfair.

The treatment system has never had adequate funding to provide services, let
alone "prove its effectiveness."

Furthermore, federally funded research studies (including many conducted in
Baltimore) with thousands of patients over the past 30 years have shown that
treatment works and is indeed the most cost-effective approach to drug

Imagine your doctor telling you that you couldn't get treatment for diabetes
until your HMO proved that the way they give insulin is effective.

Reserving treatment "slots" for those in the criminal justice system puts
treatment programs in the perverse position of turning away people who
volunteer for treatment in favor of those ordered to attend by their
probation officer.

The sad result is that, in Baltimore, if you are poor and addicted to drugs
or alcohol, you have to wait to get arrested before you can get help.

Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend and her staff hold the key to improving
the situation. They can reverse the wrong-headed decision made in 1994,
which denied Medicaid to people with drug dependence and alcoholism. They
can provide adequate funding for treatment and evaluation.

Particularly in times of budget surplus, it is ridiculous to set up a false
conflict between coerced and voluntary treatment.

Yes, those with addiction who are in trouble with the law should be required
to get appropriate treatment, both in prison and after they get out.

But the approach should not be to "rob Peter to pay Paul." Treatment should
be available to all who need it.

Robert A. Herman Reisterstown

The writer is assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of
Maryland School of Medicine.

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