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Baltimore mayor: The Sun got it wrong; I am not 'undermining' drug treatment

In a recent editorial, The Baltimore Sun said I was undermining drug treatment in our city and took out of context what I have said regarding doing treatment in a more responsible way. They got it wrong.

I have never said we should not do drug treatment in Baltimore City. My illustration — saying parents would likely put their drug addicted children on a plane somewhere far away for treatment — was an expression of what I believed people with the financial means would do if someone in their family was drug addicted.

The Sun failed to include the rest of my “musings,” which stated that what we are doing in our city as it relates to drug treatment is clearly not working. We are not experiencing in Baltimore City a decline in the number of people who are in need of drug treatment, but we’re seeing an increase. Treatment is big business, and we need to face that reality.

If you need to experience, as I have by walking up and down the streets of Baltimore, what a community that is overrun with drug treatment looks like and what the people in those surrounding communities must tolerate, I invite you to spend some time in one of our impacted neighborhoods. Drive slowly along Pennsylvania Avenue on any given day, and a drug addicted person might walk smack into your vehicle. Stand on the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and Laurens Street near the Avenue Market, where elderly residents who want to use public transportation can’t sit on the bus stop bench because the substance abusers are sitting there.

Among my thinking-out-of-the-box solutions is to connect more drug treatment to hospitals. After all we call it a health issue. If treatment were hospital-based, and practitioners were certified to provide those services, we could expect better-run facilities where you wouldn’t find people simply trying to make it through the day. We would be combining social services, housing and mental health services in an effort to treat the whole person, as some of our institutions currently do and the city will also do at the new stabilization center I recently approved — and decided not to locate near Pennsylvania and North avenues, where drug treatment is already abundant.

I applaud researchers who have data to support treatment in communities, however, what researchers have not told us is how to do it responsibly.

People complain about the homeless on our streets, or addicts on the corners with signs begging for money, and the tent cities springing up across Baltimore, but few have offered solutions that have resulted in visible change.

Treatment centers are disproportionately located in some communities of our city. Drug treatment can’t be defined simply as the place where you show up to get methadone every day. If an addict is to find sobriety, it has to be about getting to the root of the drug addiction, so we treat the cause and not just the problem.

I’m working with developers who asked me how they can help the city. I said: Help me build and expand a facility that treats the problems that cause drug addiction. There are a number of opportunities to create more of these facilities in Baltimore City, and we can be a model for the rest of the country. What if we used the recently vacated schools like Cardinal Gibbons or the soon to be vacated Seton Keough and linked them to medical facility partners such as St. Agnes, University of Maryland, Kaiser Permanente or Harbor Hospital, and we could share a treatment area with Anne Arundel County? Or what if we partnered with Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center and offered various treatment models to surrounding counties, not just Baltimore City? This would be an opportunity for us to address this problem regionally.

We must get people treatment, the homeless housed and fed; we must find help for the mentally ill and get the chronically unemployed working again.

Medically based facilities that understand what it also means to be a community would not be destructive; they would be more welcoming. I applaud Sinai Hospital and others that have run methadone clinics in a responsible way.

I’m challenging our city to do better by those who have drug problems. Our citizens and our communities deserve better. That’s not undermining!

Catherine E. Pugh is the mayor of Baltimore City. She can be reached at: mayor.baltimorecity.gov/contact-mayor.

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