Crime Cutting Made Simple

A Chronicle Report
      THE AVERAGE DRUG USER, left untreated, commits 250 crimes a year. But the average drug user in a drug rehabilitation program using methadone commits only 22 crimes annually--meaning most in treatment don’t commit crimes at all.
       These are findings of studies used to launch a new crime-fighting initiative in the Park Heights community. During a 30-day test period, police arrested drug dealers but gave certain apprehended drug users--those without outstanding warrants and those not on parole or probation--the option of seeking treatment for addiction instead of being taken to Central Booking and being charged with the crime of drug possession.
       Those who agreed to accept drug treatment were issued summonses and will be monitored during their treatment. Those who do not complete the treatment will be re-arrested.
      Dr. Peter Beilenson, Commissioner of Health for Baltimore City, says there are 60,000 drug addicts in Baltimore City. “Our aim is to provide [drug addiction] treatment on request,” he says of the Health Department. “We’re following through both before and after treatment, in a joint program of Johns Hopkins, Morgan, and the University of Maryland.”
      Redirecting current funds from criminal justice to treatment, it is believed, will pay off for the city in a reduced crime rate and fewer health problems among drug users. The needle exchange program already in operation, for example, is expected to lower rates for hepatitis, AIDS, and sexually transmitted diseases.
      “Homicides in the city are considerably down,” points out Dr. Beilenson. “Police aren’t doing anything different. The only thing different is increased drug treatment.”
      In 1997, the City only had 4,100 drug treatment slots for the uninsured; this meant 11,000 addicts received help that year. By the end of 1999, there will be 8,100 slots, and 22,000 uninsured addicts can be helped.
      Dr. Beilenson calls the term “drug legalization” “a political red herring.” He says he once thought such a thing was possible, but the opposition was too strong. “But I totally agree with medicalization,” he says. “Drug addiction is a public health problem, and in public health we’re interested in harm reduction.”

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This story was published on September 1, 1999.