Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford talks about proposed spending in Gov. Larry Hogan's upcoming budget for treatment, prevention and education on opioids. (Kim Hairston, Baltimore Sun video)

I had trouble understanding the government’s logic in your March 4th article about Maryland’s drug treatment program for prison inmates (“Maryland made a plan to help people leaving prison get drug treatment — but it never used it,” Mar. 4). According to your story, the state failed to utilize a bureaucracy-cutting mechanism that would have provided treatment to prisoners upon their release (“Get those released from prison on Medicaid quicker,” Mar. 4). In this case, the state's mistake was a good one. Why wait until a prisoner is released to treat their addiction? They’ve been in custody for at least a year, doing nothing but lifting weights, eating bologna and planning what they’re going to do the second they get out. Going to rehab isn’t on anyone one’s bucket list.

According to your article, “Advocates lauded the move as a novel way to prevent overdose deaths.” No, a novel idea would be to provide that treatment for the duration of their incarceration, when counselors have their undivided attention. Maryland’s failure to get anything done on this issue should come as no surprise. I’ve heard every excuse about why government can’t mandate rehab instead of prison. They all amount to a defense of what President Eisenhower called the “military-industrial complex.”

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In this case, there’s an “addiction industry.” It’s an industry with a vested interest in maintaining the status quo of a criminal justice bureaucracy that thrives on putting addicts in “the system.” It’s not about helping addicts turn their lives around. It’s about feeding a bureaucratic system that needs a steady diet of incarcerated addicts to sustain itself. The addiction industry attempts to shut down every discussion on this subject with the ultimate cop out: There aren’t enough rehab beds. Really? Then what are they sleeping on in prison? Why not put the rehab where the addicts are, in the prison? Turn one block of the prison into a treatment center for the 20 percent of prisoners who are addicts.

It’s not rocket science. The rehab that got me clean and sober was nothing more than a hallway with a meeting room on one end and a nurse’s station on the other. The whole thing operated with a few licensed counselors, a couple of nurses and a visiting doctor. Instead of waiting for Maryland’s bureaucracy to motivate itself, which will never happen, lawmakers should simply mandate low level, nonviolent drug offenders to serve a reduced sentence in a prison rehab. Instead of walking away with a felony, they can walk away with a certificate of accomplishment and a decent shot at a bright future. Or, we could continue to do what The Sun's article proves we're doing, which is nothing.

John C. Wolfe

The writer is the former chief speechwriter to New York Gov. George Pataki and the author of “You Can’t Die” and “The Funny Thing About Being Sober.”

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