It’s a story almost as old as addiction itself. It’s a question with an obvious answer, but one still lingering. It’s a debate over helping vs. punishing. It’s a political pitfall, but one that may finally be addressed.
I’m talking, of course, about offering addicts treatment instead of punishing them with jail or prison. Now that’s a vast oversimplification of the personal, political, and socioeconomic debate raging across the country at this very moment. Still, I believe it should be that simple.
And so does Mike Gimbel. The former Baltimore County drug czar believes in treatment over punitive measures. He believes in the power of one addict or alcoholic helping another. He believes in hope.
The Washington Post recently published an op-ed letter from Gimbel. In the very short letter, clocking in at only three paragraphs, he outlines a number of ways to address the decades-old heroin epidemic plaguing Baltimore. He also refutes Governor Larry Hogan’s plan to build a “heroin taskforce” and police the streets of the city.
I have nothing but respect for Gimbel. A recovering addict himself, he takes a simple, no-nonsense approach to the treatment of addiction. He delves into a potential landslide of controversy and handles it with grace and dignity.
In his letter, Gimbel outlines a number of radical, yet completely practical, ways to effect real change in the world of drug addiction. The very first thing he calls for is affordable and residential substance abuse treatment.
I’m on board. I’ve been in recovery for seven years. Reflecting on my time in rehab, nothing helped more than being in a safe, secure environment far away from home.
Gimbel echoes this sentiment as well. His call for affordable and residential treatment stems from a few factors. He believes residential treatment will help addicts move from the street to safety, from a “drug environment” to the healing area of acceptance. He believes inpatient treatment will reduce violence, crime, and blood-borne diseases that go hand-in-hand with hard drug addiction.
Gimbel touches on the need for rehab to include something I like to call life skills training. This is when, in addition to one-on-one and group therapy, patients are taught things like how to build a resume and offered GED classes.
In his argument for life skills training, Gimbel notes that there’s a clear financial benefit to this type of rehabilitation. Taking socially conscious measures like these will ultimately save taxpayers money, as it takes considerably more federal and state dollars to incarcerate someone than it does to train them.
Gimbel brings some of his personal experience into the letter as well. He notes his time spent as Baltimore County drug czar and how he converted an abandoned psychiatric hospital into a “low-cost, long-term residential treatment center.” Residents of the Baltimore area will recognize this as Rosewood State Hospital.
Finally, Gimbel calls on Governor Hogan to work with communities and effect this sort of lasting change, rather than simply putting together a heroin taskforce. It’s a bold move and one that, if implemented correctly, will likely pay off as low-income Baltimore residents struggling with substance abuse suddenly find a way out. Or, to put it in slightly more poetic terms — as Baltimore residents suddenly find hope.
It remains to be seen whether this approach will work. While I personally believe that Gimbel’s community-focused, affordable-for-everyone idea of residential treatment in Baltimore is smart, I can’t see into the future. I can offer my experience as an addict in recovery, though.
Residential treatment saved my life. It allowed me a period of safety and security away from drugs and alcohol. This, in turn, allowed me to see how badly I’d been damaging my life and the lives of my loved ones.
Residential treatment afforded me the opportunity to take an introspective and honest look at my thoughts, actions, and belief system. I’d never done that before. I’d never even considered doing that before.
For these reasons, and others too personal and numerous to list here, I’ll always be a proponent of treatment over jail. I’m glad that someone like Mike Gimbel, someone with the professional experience and personal connections, feels the same.