New drug funds for Baltimore


Responding to dramatic increases in drug-related visits to Baltimore emergency rooms, U.S. health officials announced this week that they are allocating additional drug treatment money to the city.

Baltimore is among six cities that will share $5 million in money reallocated to drug treatment from other federal health programs. Another $19 million has been added to the federal drug treatment budget nationwide as new data show that earlier predictions of progress in the drug war have proved false.

However much money does come to Baltimore -- federal officials say they are not yet sure of the exact amount -- it is unlikely to offset the $6.5 million cut facing Maryland's drug treatment system in the state's emergency budget-balancing effort.

"We're still waiting to hear from the feds," Tori Leonard, a state health department spokeswoman, said yesterday. "We don't know the details."

The federal action follows unwelcome news that emergency-room visits involving cocaine and heroin use have been rising nationally for three consecutive quarters -- a trend that contrasts sharply with last year's statements by Bush administration officials, who saw an earlier decline in emergency-room visits as evidence of progress.

But for the first three quarters of 1991, the Drug Abuse Warning Network -- which uses data collected by doctors and nurses in U.S. emergency rooms and trauma centers -- showed repeated increases that have rolled back any notion of progress in most U.S. cities.

In Baltimore, the trend has been constantly and dramatically upward. While many U.S. cities were reporting declines in emergency-room visits in 1990, this city jumped from 4,781 reported incidents to 6,222. Reported incidents involving cocaine and heroin increased simultaneously.

In the first three quarters of last year, reported drug-involved episodes at Baltimore hospitals increased by more than 75 percent over the previous period in 1990.

That increase far exceeds those posted by the other 20 cities monitored by the network. State drug abuse administration officials say the new statistics mirror their own, which show increased demand for cocaine and heroin treatment.

Federal officials could not explain the high increase in the data from Baltimore. Whether this city's addiction rate for heroin and cocaine is actually raging beyond all proportion to other cities is unclear. The Drug Abuse Warning Network data have drawn fire from critics of the Bush administration's drug policies, who say that the network relies on self-reporting by patients.

The $5 million earmarked for Baltimore and the other cities showing a significant rise in hospital visits is being channeled from other programs. The additional $19 million allocated nationwide for drug treatment comes from assets seized from drug traffickers, officials said.

"There's a definite need, and we're responding to that," said Jim Miller, public affairs officer for the federal Alcohol, Drug Abuse and Mental Health Administration.

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