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Despite obstacles, war on drugs in Maryland is worth winning

[ Return To Senator Roy Dyson's Newsletter ]

Posted on February 09, 2001:

Senator Dyson I try not to be cynical when it comes to the war on drugs. Sure there are major forces out there making sure drug trafficking continues to be a thriving market. Corrupt foreign government officials in places like Columbia, Mexico and even the United States are helpful in thwarting the attempts of the Drug Enforcement Agency to curb this war on drugs. The North American Free Trade Agreement has also made it easier for drugs to get over the border. These are indeed some significant hurdles.

We can just agree with the cynics and do nothing while drugs infest our nation or we can try our best to do something about it. That’s why I am pleased to be serving on the newly formed Special Committee on Substance Abuse that was formed by the General Assembly to address one of the most serious problems facing this nation for more than 40 years.

At our first meeting Feb. 8, Lt. Governor Kathleen Kennedy Townsend presented the Drug Treatment Task Force Final Report which was mandated by Governor Glendening. The task force will serve as a “blueprint” for this new Committee on Substance Abuse. But while this “blueprint” will no doubt serve as a useful tool for the committee members, I feel we need to do more than this final report suggests.

While its main focus is on ways to provide better treatment for drug addicts, such as funding more facilities and making it easier for addicts to get into programs, I believe we should also spend a considerable amount of time on interdiction.

The Maryland Comptroller’s Office has had some success confiscating cigarettes that are cheaper in other states from illegally coming into Maryland -- which has some of the highest cigarette and tobacco product prices in the country. If we can interdict cigarettes coming from Virginia or the Carolinas, we should be able to stop or slow heroin from entering Maryland.

It is imperative that we do a better job of interdiction to stop illegal drugs from coming into Maryland, especially hard narcotics such as heroin. Recent news reports have said that heroin overdoses have increased to an alarming level since 1990. There were more than 300 fatal overdoses (a total of 474 in 2000) in Maryland than there were in 1990. This level has risen despite an aggressive attempt by state officials to stop heroin use.

Drugs, like gambling, are scourges to society that do extraordinary harm. The infamous treatment bell curve is particularly disturbing. Unlike an allergy that can be alleviated by a simple pill or even many cancers that can be wiped out by numerous forms of treatment, drug abuse does not have a cure. You can’t pop a pill and be free of addiction. It takes quality treatment from excellent doctors at certified facilities, outpatient clinics or halfway houses to give addicts at least a hope to kick their problem. But it is also up to the addict to be committed to getting and staying clean.

Unfortunately, the treatment bell curve shows that only a third of identified drug addicts and/or alcoholics remain sober. Another third have a 50-50 chance of remaining sober while the other third can’t kick the habit.

So while treatment is vitally important, we need to make sure we do everything we can to make sure potential drug users aren’t exposed to the problem. Education programs need to be reassessed. I don’t think they’re strong and harsh enough about explaining the problem to our youths. I’ve been a big supporter of the DARE program, but I think it needs to be strengthened. I will recommend to the committee at our next meeting that we add a “Scared Straight” component to the DARE curriculum. Young people need to be exposed to hard-core former drug addicts and hear their stories. Hear how they used prostitution to buy drugs; hear how they stole their families’ valuables for drugs; how they resorted to sleeping in shacks or their cars to save money for drugs. Only by showing our youths firsthand how devastating drugs can be will we dissuade more and more of them from starting to use.

Cracking down on smuggling into this state and improving our drug education in our schools, I believe will make a big dent in this problem before we reach the treatment stage.

I am pleased that Committee Chairman Senator Ralph M. Hughes has vowed to be inclusive. He has said he will no doubt welcome experts, public health officials, but also teachers, parents, youths and former addicts who will present the problems from all facets of life.

I am optimistic that through Senator Hughes’ outstanding leadership, this committee will make a big difference in how we tackle this great problem affecting Maryland.

[ Return To Senator Roy Dyson's Newsletter ]

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