Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The Problems: Drugs

Perhaps the most obvious and urgent problem afflicting the City of Baltimore is its enormous heroin epidemic. The famous estimate that has stuck in the both the press and popular imagination is that there are approximately 50,000 full blown addicts in the city, or 1 out of every 10 adults. But there is no way of knowing whether this number is accurate, due to the fact that nobody has even done the legwork, aside from former Baltimore City Public Health Commissioner Dr. Joshua Sharfstein's estimate 3 years ago, to figure out what the true metrics and dimensions of the epidemic are. This is an unforgivable oversight in and of itself, but more on that later.

While we may not know the exact size of the drug problem confronting the city, the signs of it are everywhere. You cannot drive through either the east or west side of downtown without seeing numerous junkies, dealers, syringes on the pavement, drug addicted prostitutes soliciting, or all of the above. Beyond all these commonplace signs of a dysfunctional society is the violence and sky high murder rate that encircles a drug trade and culture where the only recourse for grievances, petty and otherwise, is gunfire.

The toll goes even further than those lives taken in the drug violence or the zombie lives being led by those addicted to heroin. The neighborhoods most heavily affected by the drug trade have had most other forms of commerce move out, with sensible business owners deciding that the profit potentials in these areas are simply not worth the constant threat of violence and robbery.

What's notable about the drug and specifically heroin problem in Baltimore though is that the scope of it is much greater than almost any other city in the country. There are areas of blight in our neighbors DC, Philly and New York, but nothing to the extent of the devastation seen on the East and West sides of the City. Add to that the excruciating difficulty of getting heroin addicts off their drug of choice and the city becomes saddled with "The Crisis That Keeps on Giving" for generations into the foreseeable future, along with the crime and HIV rates that come part and parcel to the heroin epidemic. Finding some way to lessen or halt this ongoing human tragedy needs to be Job #1 in the City of Baltimore

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