Nicole Sesker probably didn't die from a heroin overdose, but drugs took her life nonetheless. Her suspected murder received more than the usual attention not because of Baltimore's stubborn homicide rate, but because she was a former city police commissioner's stepdaughter who couldn't escape her addiction. In that regard, Ms. Sesker was like many other city residents - they've become hostages to their drug of choice and the illicit trafficking fueling so much of Baltimore's crime.
Drug addiction remains a pervasive problem in Baltimore, and while millions in public dollars are spent annually on treatment for its most disadvantaged victims (about 23,000), there remains a significant unmet need for treatment that keeps this public health crisis festering. The state Alcohol and Drug Abuse Administration is now reviewing a state-commissioned study to assess the number of addicts statewide who aren't being served and the availability of treatment.
The findings by University of Maryland researchers should provide critical data on closing the perceived gap, which in turn should help attack the underlying cause of most of Baltimore's crime. The impact of illicit drugs can be felt throughout Baltimore - the victims slain in drug turf wars, the drug cases overwhelming court dockets, the overdose deaths. That last statistic has kept pace with the body count attributed to drug violence in Baltimore: last year, there were 271 overdose deaths, attributed in part to drugs, compared with 282 homicides. Add the deaths resulting solely from alcohol intoxication and it's a wash. While cocaine-related deaths of city residents decreased 22 percent last year, overdose deaths associated with heroin remained flat and methadone-induced deaths increased an alarming 21 percent.
Nicole Sesker had the benefit of drug treatment, thanks to her stepfather, Leonard D. Hamm. And as is typical of this disease, relapse was part of her struggle, which included homelessness . Others have succeeded where Ms. Sesker tragically did not, but treatment should be accessible to everyone willing to step forward. Without it, the outcome is often all too predictable.