Gimbel: Treatment, not 'safe spaces,' will help addicts

Mike Gimbel: Treatment, not "safe spaces," will help heroin addicts.

I'm writing this letter as a former heroin addict who has been off heroin for 44 years but remembers every day what my life was like being addicted. I'm sharing my story to help educate today's health professionals, politicians, the media and other institutions who don't understand what drives a heroin addict and who are attempting to solve our current heroin epidemic with intellectual ideas such as "safe drug spaces," "narcan"and medically assisted treatment programs. Ideas that make sense on paper but not on the streets.

Being a heroin addict means that your entire life is dedicated to getting the drug and shooting up 3 to 4 times a day. It turns a decent human being into a raging animal, willing to do anything to get the drug or money to buy the drug. I stole from my parents, family members, friends and anyone else who allowed me to get near their money or expensive items. I would rob, steal, sell drugs and hustle money in order to pay for my heroin habit. Why, because that's what a heroin addict does to survive. I wasn't afraid of overdosing, getting arrested, getting HIV or Hepatitis C. Bottom line, I wasn't afraid of dying. All I wanted was to get as much heroin as I could afford. This type of behavior and obsession with heroin is not going to respond to billboards, public service announcements, hotlines or the overdose drug Narcan, and it's certainly not going to respond to "safe drug spaces" ("A safer way to do drugs?" Feb. 23).

Until we accept the fact that changing the behavior of the heroin addict isn't about more drugs but about providing more long term, drug free residential treatment, which gets the addict off the street and away from their connections and access to the drug, we will continue to see this epidemic take the lives of our loved ones. Bottom line is we don't have enough treatment in Baltimore or in Maryland. Let's fight as hard for treatment as we do for these intellectual ideas, and I promise we will see a major drop in heroin addiction in Baltimore and Maryland. Treatment works!

Mike Gimbel, Timonium

The writer is the former Baltimore County "drug czar."

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