Mayor’s Call for New Heroin Task Force
Two recent articles in The Baltimore Sun shined more light on the horrendous heroin problem in Baltimore and the substance abuse epidemic taking place throughout Maryland. The first “Mayor appoints task force to study heroin substance abuse” detailed the plan by Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake to appoint a new task for that will spend the next nine months studying heroin and substance abuse in Baltimore and then develop ideas for the city to better coordinate treatment options. The second was a letter in response to the article “Baltimore doesn’t need another heroin task force” by former Baltimore County drug czar Mike Gimbel, that took the Mayor to task for wasting time and money on another useless task force, and instead called for more affordable drug treatment programs to combat the wave of addiction in Baltimore.
The two main issues with the Mayor’s planned task force, besides the obvious issues of spending taxpayer’s money on a 9 month long task force, are the following:
- In the initial article, it mentions the task force is to be made up of members that will include representatives from law enforcement, faith groups and the mayor’s office. This is concerning. First, there is no mention of any medical professionals. Second, where are the treatment professionals? Where are the people constantly on the front lines of treating addiction to add their input to this task force? Perhaps, instead of bringing in the same old, antiquated ideas and perceptions that have long plagued Baltimore and its addiction issues, perhaps look outside the local scope? Bring in addiction treatment professionals that are having success in others areas to implement new ideas that may actually make a different?
- Speaking of old, antiquated ideas, the first article mentioned how the task force will look “for ways to promote better relations with communities where methadone clinics are located.” Understandably, Baltimore City has many methadone clinics. However, maybe in the near future the leaders of Baltimore will realize that methadone maintenance is in fact NOT treatment for heroin and other opiate addictions. Methadone came into prominence as “treatment” during the 1970’s with a wave of soldiers returning home from Vietnam addicted to heroin. It is now 2014. There are many other, more effective ways to approach substance abuse treatment. Using medication maintenance AS treatment is not one of those ways. Until Baltimore gets away from this philosophy of “medication as treatment” the heroin problem and substance abuse and addiction issues in Maryland as a whole will almost certainly never improve.
Overall, Mike Gimbel is right in his call for more affordable drug treatment in Baltimore. Task forces and community-friendly methadone clinics do not help. Drug addiction is a progressive, chronic and ultimately fatal disease if left untreated. Therefore, a drug addict in Baltimore needs effective, quality treatment in order to overcome addiction. There’s the answer to the problem. Now, the city leaders need to figure out how to implement the solution that takes the citizens of Baltimore from the problem to the answer.
Heroin addiction in Baltimore is not going away. It is not going to be arrested away nor will it dealt with effectively by more methadone clinics or more individual doctors prescribing Suboxone and other maintenance medications. Drug addiction and the people and families it touches require effective, comprehensive substance abuse treatment. Perhaps this new task force will figure that out, but if the past is any indication of the future, it’s highly doubtful.
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