Mary­land fi­nally comes to grips with its two-front war on heroin

Baltimore Sun - - COMMENTARY - By Mil­ton Emanuel Wil­liams Jr.

steve@cs­b­coun­cil.org.

The most en­cour­ag­ing words spo­ken at the re­cent Bal­ti­more Sum­mit on Mary­land’s heroin prob­lem were made by the per­son charged with lead­ing the state’s push­back on this evil drug and the ter­ri­ble con­se­quences it be­stows on the com­mu­nity, the fam­ily and the tax­payer.

Lt. Gov. Boyd Ruther­ford cor­rectly de­fined the most over­looked prob­lem in the state’s decades-long war with sub­stance abuse. He said, “I am be­gin­ning to learn that there is no one-size-fits-all so­lu­tion to this prob­lem.”

He might well have added that Mary­land is ac­tu­ally in­volved in two heroin wars, and not just the one we have been fight­ing — and los­ing — for years at an in­sanely high cost in lives and tax­payer dol­lars.

The battle plan has been ba­si­cally the same in Mary­land and states all across Amer­ica. And ba­si­cally fail­ing. Pre­vi­ous ad­min­is­tra­tions have been in­clined to fo­cus poli­cies pri­mar­ily on sub­stance abuse as it ex­ists in sub­ur­ban and ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties, while fail­ing to see the dis­tinct dif­fer­ences in the causes and ef­fects of ad­dic­tion on two heroin war fronts, our in­ner-city and outer-city com­mu­ni­ties.

Un­like past heroin study groups, the lieu­tenant gover­nor and his ad­vis­ers seem to re­al­ize that they don’t know what they don’t know about this two-front war and how to start win­ning.

So they will learn, for ex­am­ple, that most ad­dicts in the ghetto, un­like many in sub­ur­bia, sim­ply have no de­sire to stop us­ing heroin and, there­fore, must be forced into treat­ment. A ma­jor dif­fer­ence in th­ese war zones is that of­ten an outer-city ad­dict’s first step to­ward re­cov­ery is taken in the fam­ily doc­tor’s of­fice, or in an ex­pen­sive out-of-state re­hab fa­cil­ity. No such fam­ily fi­nanced “beaten paths” to heroin help can be found in the pover­tyrid­den ghetto.

And the state heroin task force should not be sur­prised to learn that, in the in­ner city, the tax­payer pays for much of the ad­dict’s drugs. It’s no won­der, then, that we see more in­ner-city ad­dicts show up for treat­ment each month when their wel­fare money runs out.

The task force will also have the op­por­tu­nity to learn that a bold new treat­ment ap­proach, a re­quire­ment we call “street smart medicine,” if added to treat­ment pro­grams in the poor­est, most heroin-plagued in­ner-city neigh­bor­hoods, would save multi-mil­lions of Med­i­caid and tax dol­lars by re­duc­ing the num­ber of un­nec­es­sary and avoid­able emer­gency room vis­its and hos­pi­tal­iza­tions. Es­sen­tially, if sub­stance abuse pa­tients are go­ing to be in a methadone pro­gram funded by Med­i­caid, then they must keep their pri­mary care and men­tal health ap­point­ments and take their med­i­ca­tion. My clinic, Turn­ing Point, es­ti­mates that, with its 2,000 pa­tients alone, this could save do­mes­tic com­peti­tors. Med­i­caid $10 mil­lion to $20 mil­lion per

In ad­di­tion to the ex­treme­lyyear.trou­bling bits and pieces we’ve seen from leaks, we Many on this heroin task force may even can also judge the mer­its of the TPP by our come to ap­pre­ci­ate the fact that ev­ery ex­pe­ri­ence with other ma­jor trade agreead­dict who en­ters a clinic door to re­ceive ments, like NAFTA, which have amounted methadone treat­ment is one less po­ten­tial to noth­ing but bro­ken prom­ises. There’s a crim­i­nal in the in­ner city that day or night lot of ev­i­dence that trade agree­ments like

rob­bing, mug­ging, bur­glar­iz­ing and even NAFTA have his­tor­i­cally hurt and even dev­as­tated em­ploy­ment and the lo­cal sell­ing their chil­dren for sex to get money economies here in the United States. And to pay for their des­per­ately needed “fix” — as ev­ery busi­ness owner knows, em­ploy­ees es­pe­cially once they have run out of are also cus­tomers — with­out jobs, peo­ple tax­payer money. can’t spend money with lo­cal busi­nesses. As the pas­tor of East Bal­ti­more’s New

Past trade deals like those have caused Life Evan­gel­i­cal Bap­tist Church and pre­silo­cal in­dus­tries and jobs to be off-shored dent of Turn­ing Point Clinic, which we and have failed to pro­duce in­cen­tives for be­lieve is the largest methadone treat­ment in­no­va­tion or in­vest­ment in lo­cal in­dus­cen­ter in the coun­try, I have been fight­ing tries, all of which im­pacts Mary­land the in­ner-city war in the trenches for 30 com­mu­ni­ties. years. And I’ve been pray­ing for Mary­land,

While larger cor­po­ra­tions may ben­e­fit, my Mary­land, to ac­tu­ally seek real so­lutheir prof­its are so shel­tered that our tions to com­bat this two-headed heroin com­mu­ni­ties never see th­ese benefits. mon­ster, and begin this new coun­terGiven the his­tory all of this, how can we of­fen­sive with the un­der­stand­ing that, as jus­tify fast-track­ing ap­proval of a trade deal Lieu­tenant Gover­nor Ruther­ford put it, that is es­sen­tially NAFTA on steroids? “no one size fits all.”

The in­for­ma­tion we have, along with the God knows, it’s time —“high time” — we bro­ken prom­ises of past trade deals, make it start tak­ing ac­cu­rate aim at our heroin clear that the TPP is de­signed by large en­emy on both fronts of this two-theater cor­po­ra­tions for their ben­e­fit and will do war. Now let’s hope and pray our state’s noth­ing to cre­ate jobs or sup­port small lead­ers in An­napo­lis will say “amen.” busi­ness. Congress must look closer and think twice be­fore they fast track this danger­ous, short-sighted agree­ment.

Steve Shaff is the ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of the Ch­e­sa­peake Sus­tain­able Busi­ness Coun­cil and founder of Com­mu­nity Vi­sion Part­ners.

SAUL LOEB/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

Demon­stra­tors protest against leg­is­la­tion to give Pres­i­dent Barack Obama fast-track author­ity to ad­vance trade deals, in­clud­ing the Trans-Pa­cific Part­ner­ship. Fast track has passed the Se­nate and is due for a vote this month in the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives.

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