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