Cities hit by drug abuse miss aid, mayors report


WASHINGTON -- Drug abuse is on the rise in Baltimore and many other cities, but not enough federal drug-fighting dollars are reaching these troubled areas, the U.S. Conference of Mayors said yesterday.

"Only a small percentage of the funds are coming into our cities," said Mayor Robert Isaac of Colorado Springs, Colo., president of the conference, at a news briefing. The current system of channeling money from the Anti-Drug Abuse Act through the states to municipalities "doesn't work," he said, urging that the funds be sent directly to cities.

A conference report found that half the $386 million in grant money allocated to the states for disbursement during the first three quarters of this year has not been issued or the recipient is unnamed.

Of Maryland's $7.3 million in enforcement, education and treatment grants, 43 percent is slated for cities and counties. But only 24 percent -- or $1.7 million -- has reached the local jurisdictions so far, with 6 percent awarded to cities and 18 percent to the counties, according to the conference.

Mr. Isaac said that much of the money nationally is bogged down in the state and federal governments.

Meanwhile, a 30-city survey conducted by the conference found that casual drug use decreased in 52 percent of the cities, while hard-core drug use increased in 73 percent of the cities surveyed.

Although Baltimore was not among the cities surveyed, it has also experienced both a decrease in casual drug use and a rise in hard-core drug use, said William Crimi, drug policy and program coordinator for the Mayor's Coordinating Council on Criminal Justice.

Admissions to drug treatment centers in Baltimore for cocaine and heroin use have risen sharply over the past three years, said William T. Rusinko of the Maryland Alcohol and Drug Abuse Administration.

In the fiscal year that ended in June, there were 7,861 drug treatment center admissions for heroin, a 22 percent increase over the previous year, he said. Cocaine admissions were 8,916, a 20 percent increase over last year.

The conference survey -- and the Baltimore figures -- appear to be at odds with remarks from William Bennett, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, who said earlier this month that the drug problem "nationwide is no longer getting worse."

Mr. Crimi agreed that federal dollars should be sent directly to the cities. "I think the money needs to have a direct link to the city, to where the problems are," he said. "Developing treatment strategies for [hard-core drug users] is a real challenge for us."

Mr. Crimi also said that Baltimore does not apply to the state for some grants because it cannot afford the required matching dollars. "The problem in Baltimore is because of our financial situation," he said. "Because we don't have money for a match, we can't apply for the money." He was uncertain about any specific grants Baltimore has bypassed.

One Maryland official, however, said the figures used by the mayors' conference are misleading and noted that the state this year has received $21 million for drug treatment and prevention from a $1.1 billion program under the Anti-Drug Abuse Act. A "substantial amount" of the state's share goes to Baltimore, said Shane Dennis, deputy director of the state's Alcohol and Drug Abuse Administration.

Still, the mayors' conference hopes that a crime bill expected to reach the House floor next week will include an amendment that will allow local jurisdictions eligible for enforcement, education and prevention grants of $50,000 or more to receive that money directly.

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