More tailored, expedited services for drug-addicted residents could help reduce Baltimore City’s crime rate, according to a Northeast Baltimore pastor.

The Rev. Milton Williams, of New Life Evangelical Baptist Church, says that’s why he’s launching a walk-in component to his drug addiction treatment center on July 5.

It will allow patients to receive doses of methadone within 15 minutes, the fastest hand-out time for the medication in the city.

Traditional treatment centers see patients by appointment only, which could take weeks to schedule. And once they come in, it could take hours before the center’s doctors prescribe the medication. Williams said as time lapses, patients easily get swallowed back up in their previous lifestyles.

“The system is antiquated,” he said. “If we don’t stop it, we will continue to pay a heavy burden of crime in this city. If an addict is going through withdrawal and is in pain, they are going to get that money to pay for the drug. Chances are they will rob someone or commit a crime to get it.”

The expedited prescription gives them a choice to “professionally take care of the pain,” he said, which could prevent them from committing a criminal act.

Dr. Kofi Shaw-Taylor, medical director at the Turning Point-based treatment center, said he is convinced the rapid process can work.

“Medical evaluations only take about 10 minutes,” he said. It’s the insurance verification and other paperwork that take up the most time, he contends.

Under the new program, patients will receive the minimum dose of methadone when they walk in the door, and the center will verify insurance and commence paperwork the following day. Patients return to the clinic for subsequent treatment over three to five days and are then recommended to participate in the traditional outpatient treatment program.

“Our patients don’t want to wait three to four hours to get an evaluation,” Williams explained. “This is a fast introduction to their recovery.”

But the walk-in methadone treatment program has yet to be approved by state and federal regulators.
Greg Warren, the state’s alcohol and drug abuse coordinator for Baltimore City, said

Williams would need the green light from at least three state and two federal agencies before he can receive a license to administer methadone within 15 minutes.

What’s more, Williams’ traditional program is on probation for “poor oversight of medication,” which means he is not allowed to admit new patients at this time.

“After his traditional program passes an inspection, then we are more than willing to sit down and talk about how to apply for waivers to figure out how to give that first dose in a timely way,” Warren explained.

But he said completing all the necessary medical evaluations in 15 minutes is “just not physically possible.” It could take roughly half a day to complete medical history evaluations, conduct a full physical and psychoanalysis and review drug test results.

He fears 15 minutes is not enough time to learn whether or not a patient really needs methadone.

“We are concerned that this program could jeopardize the care of hundreds and hundreds of people,” he said. “And the last thing I want him to do is jeopardize his center.”

Williams said the “government is questioning the whole concept because this has not been done before.”

The pastor, who has run the treatment center for 10 years, says only an unconventional method will address such high rates of addiction in a city with limited treatment resources.

Roughly 43,000 adults were admitted to Maryland-based alcohol and substance abuse treatment facilities last year, but it is estimated that thousands more did not seek help.

Williams’ center can hold 1,000 patients, and between 600 and 650 filter in and out for the traditional program.

He expects to see 100-150 new patients a night when the expedited program launches this week.

Funding is tight. The state recently cut 65 treatment slots in his facility, but Williams says paying for the extra doses of methadone needed to handle an influx of clients “is not an issue.” Patients must have Medicaid to receive treatment.

“Addiction is driving our crime numbers,” he said. “And we have to do what we have to to stop it.”
 

 

Shernay Williams

Special to the AFRO