When President Obama released his five-year goals for reducing drug use and its consequences last May, he observed that “by boosting community-based prevention, expanding treatment, strengthening law enforcement, and working collaboratively with our global partners, we will reduce drug use and the great damage it causes in our communities.”
I fully agree.
Last week, I joined President Obama’s Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, Gil Kerlikowske, for strategic conversations with drug treatment professionals here in Baltimore.
During those strategy sessions at Tuerk House, Dee’s Place, the Jericho Re-entry Program and the East Baltimore Drug Free Community Coalition, Director Kerlikowske made it clear that he had come to Baltimore to learn.
“The programs we visited in Baltimore today reflect the National Drug Control Strategy’s holistic approach to reducing drug abuse and its consequences,” Gil Kerlikowske observed. “The prevention, treatment, law enforcement and recovery programs show our national strategy at work on the local level.”
I was heartened by the Director’s visit.
One of my most important responsibilities is congressional oversight of our National Drug Control Policy. I long have championed the need for a more balanced and comprehensive national strategy.
Clearly, there is no single answer to our drug crisis. Effective drug treatment, as well as equally effective prevention and policing, must be essential components of our national strategy.
As Director Kerlikowske noted last week, what I call the “Baltimore Drug Strategy” can be a model for President Obama’s new national vision.
Here in Baltimore, where we have developed one of the most comprehensive drug treatment systems in the nation, we understand that drug treatment works (a conclusion too often lost on some of my House colleagues).
The 2002 Steps to Success: Baltimore Drug and Alcohol Treatment Outcomes Study, conducted by respected research scientists from Johns Hopkins and Morgan State University, confirmed this fact in 2002.
One month after participants entered treatment, the use of cocaine, heroin and alcohol each fell by more than 60 percent – and the positive effects of treatment were still evident after one year.
Heroin use dropped by 69 percent. Cocaine use dropped by 48 percent. Criminal activity declined by 64 percent.
Financially – and in the overall improvement of our public health and safety – studies like Steps to Success demonstrate that drug treatment provides a generous return on our investment of public funds.
That investment must be managed efficiently and effectively.
The managerial foundation of our Baltimore Strategy is a quasi-public authority, Baltimore Substance Abuse Systems, which oversees all of the publically funded drug treatment programs in our city. Led by our new Baltimore City Health Commissioner, Dr. Oxiris Barbot, “BSAS” brings all of the major agencies in our city together in a shared leadership response to the drug threat.
Another significant factor in Baltimore’s progress is an agency for which Director Kerlikowske’s Office can take much of the credit. The Washington-Baltimore High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Program (HIDTA), and its director, Thomas Carr, have long played a critical role in integrating our public safety and public health responses to drug-related crime.
Composed of top professionals and public servants from throughout our region, our HIDTA teams have learned the lesson that drug treatment is an essential element of public safety.
A recent analysis demonstrated that no more than 37 percent of clients who successfully completed HIDTA-funded drug treatment programs were re-arrested during the following year.
The Baltimore Plan is smart and evidence-based, balanced and effective. As America moves toward a more comprehensive national drug control strategy, the initiatives that we have developed here offer the rest of the country important models of success.
Success will also require that America’s drug treatment programs continue to receive the funding that they need. Even here in Baltimore, of the more than 60,000 of our neighbors who needed treatment in 2009, only one-third were able to receive that help.
We must do better than this. Although funding for drug treatment must compete with other national priorities, we must find the way to provide effective treatment to all who are in need.
Lives are in the balance – and we cannot afford to fail.
Congressman Elijah E. Cummings represents Maryland’s Seventh Congressional District in the United States House of Representatives.