FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: WED., SEPT. 22, 2004
Contact: Kathy Chu/Bob Weiner 301-283-0821 or 202-329-1700
(Baltimore, MD) – "Baltimore is starting to rise from the ashes of heroin," former White House drug spokesman Robert Weiner said today. Over the last three years, Baltimore has experienced the most heroin reduction of any city in the nation and is no longer the country’s "heroin haven", Weiner reports in a column in today’s Baltimore Sun. Weiner contends that a "message change" by Mayor Martin O’Malley, Cong. Elijah Cummings, NAACP President Kweisi Mfume, and former U.S. Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey away from former Mayor Kurt Schmoke’s support for legalization has had a positive result.
Weiner, spokesman and Director of Public Affairs for the White House Office of National Drug Policy from 1995-2001, together with University of Virginia anti-drug activist Sasha Varghese, wrote the op-ed in today’s Sun, "City Can’t Retreat in War on Drugs".
Weiner and Varghese assert, "Regrettably, Baltimore often has been considered the nation's heroin haven and remains among the top heroin-abusing cities. It has among the most hospitalizations, treatment cases and heroin related crime; 35.8 percent of those arrested last year tested positive for heroin. From 1994 to 1998, the frequency of drug-related emergency room visits in the Baltimore area was nearly triple the national rate. For Baltimore adults, one in every 40 is on probation for a drug offense.
"A few years ago, then-mayor of Baltimore Kurt Schmoke advocated legalizing the distribution and use of drugs. The culture of the city was that abuse didn't matter or couldn't be stopped. The attitude and approach of Mr. Schmoke not only failed to curb these exorbitant numbers but made the situation worse.
"As NAACP National President Kweisi Mfume, from Baltimore, put it to us in an interview at the Democratic National Convention this summer, ‘There was no plan, nothing.’
"In contrast, over the last three years, Baltimore has ranked number one in the nation for improvement in reducing heroin abuse, fostering a huge 42.5 percent drop in heroin-related emergency room admissions, according to the federal Drug Abuse Warning Network. Medical and criminal incidents related to heroin have been slashed dramatically.
"The change may be a result of the change in the message," Weiner contends. "In Baltimore, providing treatment instead of debating legalization has properly become the focus of the anti-drug effort. Mayor Martin O'Malley stressed to us at the Democratic convention, ‘Drugs are dangerous and a threat to our citizens, our city, our health, and the future of our children.’ The city spent $62 million for drug treatment in 2003, up from a mere $29 million in 1999, and created five new treatment facilities. Former U.S. Drug Czar, Gen. Barry McCaffrey, made numerous visits to Baltimore’s drug affected areas and met with officials and citizens.
"Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., also has been a fervent activist in the war on drugs," Weiner reports. "Regarding a Baltimore grand jury recommendation in May 2003 to conduct ‘regulated distribution of heroin’ -- a policy that had been endorsed by Schmoke -- Mr. Cummings offered this response: "A free society, a people who believe in the sanctity of each human being, must never condone addiction, nor those who seek to profit from enslaving their neighbors."
"Baltimore is starting to rise from the ashes of heroin, but it is not above them yet," Weiner and Varghese conclude.
(Source: Robert Weiner Associates 301-283-0821 or 202-329-1700)