More Funds Eyed to Aid Addicted

 Editorial from The Sun

State task force seeks $300 million more over 10 years; Two years of research; Recommendations reflect national push for treatment

By Todd Richissin, Sun Staff

"Punitive measures certainly have a role to play, but we're not being realistic if we don't have a treatment component."

Del. Robert L. Flanagan, Howard County Republican

Moving toward treatment for all substance abusers in Maryland, a legislative task force recommended yesterday an increase of $300 million in spending for alcohol and drug programs.

The money would be added over 10 years to about $123 million the state spends annually for substance abuse programs. About $200 million would come from tax revenues, with the rest expected to come from insurers and other private sources.

The report also calls for closer monitoring of addiction programs to ensure their effectiveness. Baltimore would likely gain substantial treatment money.

Task force members called the report, which was based on two years of study, the state's most comprehensive effort to get addicts into recovery programs. Although more than 70,000 substance abusers in Maryland now receive treatment, thousands seeking help are on waiting lists.

"It's terrible that there are people who want to get in addiction treatment and can't get in," said Del. Dan K. Morhaim, a Baltimore County Democrat who is co-chairman of the task force with Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend.

Although it is unclear whether the funding will reach the recommended levels, Maryland has added significantly more money for treatment in the past few years, and with Townsend's backing, that is likely to continue. Gov. Parris N. Glendening and the legislature added $25 million to addiction treatment in last year's budget, and the governor has proposed adding $22 million this year. Republicans want to spend even more -- $25 million.

"We think that drug treatment is part of a strong, effective crime control package," said Del. Robert L. Flanagan, a Howard County Republican. "Punitive measures certainly have a role to play, but we're not being realistic if we don't have a treatment component."

Addicts, he said, need to be given treatment options, and not enough options are available.

The trend in Annapolis reflects the changing politics across the country of how to deal with addiction, with treatment gaining favor over punishment in states from California to New York.

Liberals have long used moral arguments to push for increased treatment; more conservative politicians have begun accepting the idea that treatment makes financial sense.

Studies show that in Maryland, problems associated with drug and alcohol abuse cost the state between $1.3 billion and $5.5 billion a year. For every $1 spent on treatment, studies have shown, $5 to $7 is saved in addiction-related costs, including pressures put on the criminal justice system, child welfare and education.

Townsend said the plan to expand treatment is long overdue.

"For too long and in too many neighborhoods in Maryland, addicts have had better access to drugs than to treatment," she said at a news conference yesterday. "We plan to change that."

And, she added, not only will treatment be expanded, it will be improved, in part by recruiting and retaining better workers with higher salaries.

Among the report's other recommendations:

* Implement laws to require private health insurers to improve drug and alcohol treatment;

* Increase drug treatment delivery from HealthChoice, Maryland's Medicaid managed care group;

* Increase salaries for all public drug and alcohol treatment system employees;

* Implement a statewide system for measuring the effectiveness of different programs;

* Create a drug and alcohol council to coordinate treatment and funding across the state. 

Dr. Peter L. Beilenson, Baltimore's health commissioner, said the city typically gets about 40 percent of state funds for addiction treatment. If the recommended money comes through, he said, Baltimore could soon realize its goal of providing treatment for every addict who wants it.

"That would clearly make a huge difference in Baltimore," Beilenson said. "There obviously are too many people waiting for treatment."

Don Caldarazzo, 23, is typical of Baltimore-area addicts. Caught with drugs, he was sentenced to a heroin treatment program, but the halfway house he was sent to was overcrowded and dirty and offered little in the way of treatment, he said. He left without permission, and discovered that other programs have long waiting lists.

"You have to keep calling them and bugging them," he said outside a needle-exchange wagon in West Baltimore. "They tend to never call you back."

Morhaim, whose legislation in 1998 created the task force that reported yesterday, said he does not expect an infusion of money to reach every addict but that it would help people on such lists.

But, he added, one day of treatment for somebody not receiving it now means that person -- if even for one day -- is not committing crimes to fund his or her addiction.

"Treatment is not going to solve all the problems," he said. "It's like turning a battleship on a dime -- you can't do it."

Sun staff writer Thomas W. Waldron contributed to this article.

Originally published Feb 7, 2001