Meeting on drug treatment draws hundreds; State panel holds first of four public hearings


In a city's cry of anguish, more than 250 people turned out last night at a public hearing in downtown Baltimore to testify to the devastation of drug addiction and appeal for more and better treatment.

Those who lined up to address the Maryland Drug Treatment Task Force included recovering addicts, parents of young people who died of overdoses and program directors complaining of short funds.

"Many of the young people in my community have no hope in their eyes because they are the children of parents who are addicted," said Jacqueline Johnson, speaking for the Neighborhood Congress, a city advocacy group. She said she knows children who are being raised by their great-grandparents because their parents and grandparents are disabled by drugs.

She expressed appreciation for $8 million more provided for drug treatment in the city by Gov. Parris N. Glendening and the General Assembly. But she added: "We're coming back. We need more."

Charlie Cooper, administrator of the state Citizens Review Board for Children, said about 13,000 Maryland children a year are placed in foster care, compared with 6,000 a year a decade ago. He blamed drugs, saying that of the children placed in care, 72 percent have at least one parent who is a drug addict or alcoholic.

"A lot of these parents need intensive, long-term treatment," Cooper said.

The three-hour hearing at War Memorial Hall was the first of four to be held around the state by the task force, which is studying how the state should expand and improve its treatment system.

Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, chairwoman of the task force, told the crowd that drug treatment has been held to "an unfair double-standard" compared with treatments for other relapsing ailments such as diabetes and heart disease. She said the effectiveness of treatment is proven, but the system needs better coordination and accountability.

Mayor Martin O'Malley stopped in at the hearing and made a pitch for more treatment money, saying that if money is available to build stadiums, it should be available for treatment.

The other hearings will be held from 2: 30 p.m. to 5: 30 p.m. May 25 at Kepler Theater at Hagerstown Community College; from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. June 5 in the Physics Building at the University of Maryland, College Park; and from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. June 20 at Wicomico Civic Center in Salisbury.

Information on the task force: 301-670-1214.

An article Tuesday about a drug treatment hearing misstated the statistics on foster care for Maryland children. There are about 13,000 children placed in care outside their homes today, compared with 6,000 a decade ago. The number entering the system each year is approximately 4,400.The Sun regrets the error.
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