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The following editorials appeared in other zoned...


The following editorials appeared in other zoned editions of The Baltimore Sun last week.

Carroll County

* While the Carroll County Narcotics Task Force may not have $50,000 stashed in a secret fund, as some county employees contended, no one outside the drug task force seems to know much about the finances of this law enforcement group. That is unfortunate. This group must start accounting for the tens of thousands of dollars it has confiscated and allegedly spent since its inception in the late 1980s.

After hearing rumors of thousands of dollars squirreled away in task force accounts, the county commissioners (in need of $10,000 to purchase desperately needed police radios) recently asked for an audit.

County Auditor Tim Hartman did a cursory review, and did not find the rumored money. Instead, he found that the task force had $7,000 in a checking account and $10,000 in a savings account.

The Carroll commissioners may be satisfied that the task force is not accumulating large sums of cash, but they should demand -- and receive -- a more thorough accounting of task force spending. While no county money is regularly appropriated for the task force, money seized in the name of the people of Carroll pays for its operations. The commissioners, who are Carroll's elected representatives, should have oversight of this money. . . .

The task force's ambiguous status needs to be clarified. Is it a part of the state's attorney's office, a distinct police agency or a -- group with no legal standing that need not answer for its actions to anyone outside the advisory board? . . .

The narcotics task force is making arrests, prosecuting drug dealers and seizing money and assets in the name of the people of Carroll County, so these questions need to be answered.

But more immediately, The task force should be providing a regular accounting -- as do similar operations in other jurisdictions -- of the money and assets it confiscates in the course of fighting drugs. Carroll citizens should know what is being done in their names. . . . May 18.

Anne Arundel County

* North Arundel Hospital puts out press release after press release proclaiming its "commitment to the needs of the community." Yet on June 1, NAH will deep-six one of the health services the community needs most: a detoxification unit for drug addicts.

The reason is money.

The 12-bed program has been losing money for years, and will cost $1.5 million this year. NAH says it can't afford it, even though detox is the only service at the hospital that doesn't turn a profit.

So what happens to the 100 to 120 addicts NAH has been treating every month?

The three area hospitals that still have detox centers already have more patients than they can handle. NAH admirably pledges to treat addicts in a regular hospital setting from now on, then refer them to other agencies for help. Still, without the intensive group setting, the chances for recovery -- especially for the most serious addicts -- seem dismal.

Detoxification units are a huge financial burden on hospitals. Detox is expensive, and insurance companies and government Medicaid have become unwilling to pick up the bill. That means the hospitals must, at a cost of $2,000 for each uninsured patient. NAH is not the first hospital to decide it no longer can afford this; at least 16 state-funded or hospital-based clinics have closed in the past two years. . . .

As health costs rise, not every hospital can or should offer every service. . . . But when a service is desperately needed, the bottom line shouldn't automatically rule. Francis Scott Key Medical Center, Harbor and Mercy hospitals face financial problems from their detox units, too. Eventually, they will have little choice but to raise rates for other patients if the centers are to stay. In the meantime, they have decided the need is so great that they must keep the centers going.

No business can be expected to subsidize any program indefinitely. But NAH is not just a business. It is a hospital, "committed to the needs of the community."

In keeping with that mission -- and since the NAH enjoys a profit -- it should keep as much of the detox center going as it can while working with other health agencies to find a solution to this critical problem . . . May 18.

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