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Drug treatment works better without police involvement | READER COMMENTARY

An unused dorm style room at the Gaudenzia treatment center in Crownsville. Despite a growing need for substance use treatment as the country’s opioid epidemic collides with the coronavirus pandemic, long-term residential rehab facilities are treating fewer patients.
An unused dorm style room at the Gaudenzia treatment center in Crownsville. Despite a growing need for substance use treatment as the country’s opioid epidemic collides with the coronavirus pandemic, long-term residential rehab facilities are treating fewer patients. (Paul W. Gillespie/Capital Gazette)

I was dismayed to see Gaudenzia CEO Dale Klatzker write in The Baltimore Sun that partnering with the criminal justice system is “necessary for effective addiction treatment” (“Gaudenzia: Partnering with justice system necessary for effective addiction treatment,” Nov. 6). Decades of research and failed drug war policies show the opposite to be true. We need to decouple drug users from the criminal justice system and give them effective treatment that does not rely on the threat of incarceration. Meeting people who use drugs where they are at in the recovery process is a more humane and impactful way of providing treatment and care.

Mr. Klatzker writes of Gaudenzia clients: “We aren’t talking about people arrested for petty drug crimes. The vast majority of our 8-507 clients in Maryland have been convicted of felonies.” If that is the case, then something doesn’t add up. Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby’s policies only impact drug possession. There is no change in prosecution policies for felony offenses. Yet Gaudenzia originally told The Sun that “the company has taken in $3.34 million less from the state diversion program compared with last year.” Either Gaudenzia is losing money because it typically relied on criminal justice referrals for drug possession cases, as the initial comments to The Sun suggest, or, for some reason, the state has stopped referring felony drug cases to Gaudenzia.

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As Oregon showed last week, the country is moving in the direction of decriminalizing drug possession. The state’s attorney should be applauded for moving in this direction. Drug treatment organizations must adapt to this new environment rather than cast aspersions on those of us who seek reform.

Brendan Saloner, Baltimore

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The writer is an associate professor in the health policy and management department at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

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