72: The Failure of Drug Policy to Win the War on Drugs (Sort Of)

We invite Carlos H onto the show to talk about his experiences with drug policy, advocacy, and activism in the Baltimore recovery community. Carlos has been deeply involved in policy work since he first found recovery. He has been involved in many organizations in Maryland, in different ways trying to improve the recovery scene to help save lives. Today we focus on the struggles with recovery housing, how grant funding seems to end up in the hands of for-profit treatment centers instead of non-profit community organizations, and how policy has failed to solve the problems in minority communities. Carlos also explores what it will take for change to happen in communities of color. Listen in as we celebrate all the work Carlos has done for the recovery community with Maryland Recovery Organization Connecting Communities, Light Street Housing Corporation, Citizens Planning and Housing Association, Maryland Chapter of National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Baltimore Substance Abuse Systems, Maryland’s State Drug and Alcohol Council, and is currently working at Dee’s Place. Join the conversation by leaving a message, emailing us at RecoverySortOf@gmail.com,  or find us on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram, or find us on our website at www.recoverysortof.com.

Episode about the War on Drugs

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recovery sort of is a podcast where we discuss recovery topics from the perspective of people living in long-term recovery this podcast does not intend to represent the views of any particular group organization or fellowship the attitudes expressed are solely the opinion of its contributors be advised there may be strong language or topics of an adult nature

all right welcome to recovery sort of my name is billy i’m a person in long-term recovery i’m jason a guy in long-term recovery and today our guest is going to be carlos h carlos is a person in long-term recovery he’s also served as a recovery advocate for 27 years i believe he’s worked with a number of different recovery organizations throughout maryland the maryland recovery organization connecting communities he’s worked with light street housing corporation the maryland chapter of the national council of alcohol and drug dependency the baltimore substance abuse system the maryland state drug and alcohol council just to name a few i was gonna say you should have named the places he didn’t work with and he mentioned to us he’s getting ready to start new as i believe he said the program director at dee’s place down in baltimore city they got meetings 24 hours a day yeah so he has been an active advocate in this movement for a long time um but it’d be good to talk to him a little bit about what’s gone on in baltimore and what recovery organizations need what we need in our as a recovery community to help fund some of our fight yeah just continuing the conversation i think a little bit from last week delving into you know the history of how the war on drugs and all the policies surrounding that affect minority communities affect people of color and having somebody on who is a person of color who you know is doing something about it and like you said 27 years has spent a lot of time investing in trying to get this stuff straightened out right i mean that’s i think where we’re going with this conversation just what can we do what are we doing what have we not done where are we going wrong why 50 70 years into the drug war have we not won right why haven’t drugs held up the white flag of surrender and waved it around and said you know what you’re right we we’re whooped yeah we definitely know there’s no shortage of funding that’s went to police agencies the industrial prison complex and the building of police forces around the country but it has not helped at all it’s only gotten worse right right so where does this money need to go you know not that there might not be some small victories in policing or treatment or whatever it is but where do we need to put this funding in order to make something different happen because keep doing the same [ _ ] you’re going to keep getting the same [ _ ] yeah we learn that in recovery keep doing the same thing expecting different results we call it insanity nothing changes nothing to you

yeah maybe they need some of our recovery sayings in annapolis and at the national level all right so let’s uh have on carlos and we’ll see what’s going on

with this being black history month we wanted to have some people on to talk about the struggles in the black community especially with the war on drugs how that’s impacted a city specifically like baltimore city i mean everybody’s aware of the issues in the city with locking up mass incarceration of young men and the impact that’s had on some of the communities and so we’re in a rural community we don’t face some of those issues so we thought it’d be nice to talk to somebody who’s been in that struggle for a while i know you’ve been doing this for quite a long time and felt like you’d be a good uh voice a good platform for you to talk about some of that and then some of the things that we can be doing as a recovery community to help change that course how do we get you know supporting communities how do we start getting recovery resources where they need to be what recovery resources do we need in these communities things like that billy you i hope you guys don’t end up regretting this um i’m i’m sort of like a renegade like your wife yeah like by any means necessary and sometimes people don’t want to hear the truth or at least my truth but it’s what sustained me for over 27 years dude so understanding that if i talk about any issues only from my perspective the war on drugs a lot of folks to say it’s not a war on drugs it’s a war in communities of color and i think it speaks to in the past before we had this declared opioid epidemic most of our country response to the issue of drugs was primarily focused on public safety perspective lock them up you know but when you start hearing uh definitely the people in recovery but when you start hearing law enforcement and other folks saying we can’t lock our way out of this block our way out of this problem it’s a reality but it hasn’t stopped

from doing this [ __ ] you know so i’m carlos h i’ve been in recovery for 27. i’m gonna claim 27 and a half but over 27 years a long time a resident of baltimore city first time dad at 51 so i’m 65 and i have a 14 year old i have a 14 year old so he’s you know he’s my recovery miracle man do you think having a 14 year old son i mean obviously he’s getting right to that age that’s i mean i’ll say targeted by law enforcement do you think things are better now than they were when you were growing up or still just as scary what’s happening in this country today no it’s not better if you’re talking about the the perils or the traps that young african-american males can fall into or subjected to you sort of like don’t want to have this conversation with your kid about if you get stopped by the police how to be respectful you know the most important thing is to make sure that you make it back home his mom and i both uh talk to him quite a bit his mom is a minister so we raised antonio spiritually but also religiously has a strong respect for god has a strong respect for human life try to put manners in and instill manners but just you know he’s he’s so socially conscious dude a lot of times i don’t have to say he sees it for himself on tv and then we have these discussions i feel pretty comfortable you know whether it’s tamar or whether it’s george floyd or any other stuff that’s transpiring i we don’t hide it from him we hope that promotes a dialogue in the discussion yeah good so my first question would be we talked last week with cassandra frederick from the drug policy alliance okay about the racist policies on the drug war how they focused on minorities over the years in the 80s it seems like that was specifically that target went to the black communities with crack and the drug laws around treating crack different than cocaine and how that impacted a lot of these communities what did that look like in baltimore city or how has that war on drugs impacted baltimore city so you know i was watching pbs last night and i love ken burns and the shows that he does so he did one on jazz and i was watching it last night so it you know eventually through the evolution of play it talked about charlie parker and how he came up and how he ultimately got into drugs you know he started with caffeine and some other things to help him stay awake so that he could play all night and eventually he he was in a serious car accident and he ended up taking you know the medication but then ultimately it transitioned into heroin and the same thing for billie holiday and same thing for miles davis so it’s not saying that that drugs weren’t in communities of color but definitely not to the level that we started to see around the 80s when our president at the time decided he was going to fund uh an illegal war and he did that by allowing drugs to flood our communities and i think also is that they use the drugs in the community actually to destabilize so that war and drugs in and of itself it was like you know they created the problem and then they had to declare a problem and so you know you had to have a bad guy in communities of color where were designated as the bad guys and you know the policies from from reagan to bush to some of the other ones always focused on public safety perspective you know we need to get this under control in order for us to be safe it’s a scourge on society but if nothing else we can keep it contained in those communities and and so that’s what we started seeing man there was a lot of money involved with this quote-unquote war on drugs and most uh law enforcement agencies carried it that way you know if you got court i’ll give you a classic example the sentencing disparity between crack cocaine and powder cocaine for years for years you would get four times more jail time for having crack cocaine than you would for having powdered cocaine and primarily because people in communities of color couldn’t afford powdered cocaine but we could afford crack you know and so it took the drug policy alliance and a lot of advocates to to actually fight to overturn that policy and i think that’s what you’ve seen in communities of color it’s it’s like a tale of two cities i’m not exactly sure when the opioid epidemic was declared i’m saying probably in my mind it was probably 15 or 16. yeah because i didn’t hear a lot about it when my company had a contract with the state to organize recovery houses and so i was working really close with the recovery community and also with the treatment system and i attended a lot of meetings and we didn’t hear a lot about the opioid epidemic and then i’m not exactly sure who declared it was it was it a president what what but all of a sudden we had this opioid epidemic and when you talk about disparities on how different groups or communities are are treated with this i want to be real careful about saying this there prior to the epidemic being declared there was only one approach and there was only one talking point is that we need to lock their asses up and throw the keys away and that was primarily because the the disease of addiction or drugs was identified specifically with a particular social economic or racial group but when becky sue and mary jo started getting addicted all right the the warm swish the paradigm shift we started hearing talk more about it’s not public safety you know it’s a public health issue and and addiction is a disease and we really need to get them help and it’s really interesting because when that paradigm played out we started seeing introduction of medications that weren’t as stigma based like methadone is stigma based you know you get on methadone you have to go to a clinic you have to stand in line you have to drink it every day and and so on and so forth versus you know we now we have the advent of suboxone and buprenorphine and becky sue’s pediatrician can write the prescription for it and they sort of like sanitize this thing but you know i think probably fentanyl is the the great equalizer here you know because you can’t and man they’re putting that stuff in everything cocaine marijuana you know that word is is that when you think you’re buying heroin you’re really not buying heroin you’re buying fentanyl so you know that thing and then we see all the money that that sort of like came into this issue like maryland a couple of three years ago we got 100 million dollars 50 million a year for two years and then we just got renewed and that was funding that came from the feds and it was part of the fed’s state opioid response initiative and so we started seeing treatment programs started getting all this money all right and and then they started treating people a little bit different and that’s always been one of my issues is the and and a classic example also would be the whole medical marijuana thing you know i mean you know we’ve got we’re probably one step away from legalizing it for recreation but we’ve got medical marijuana but they aren’t willing to reconsider folks that are sentenced that are locked up for non-violent offenses especially around this but no we can’t do that you know but now legally you can have a certain amount of drugs and not have to worry about consequences if you get stopped by the police yeah it’s definitely been a shift in attitude over the last like said maybe 10 years i would you know if it’s been that long but yeah when we saw the opioid crisis it is amazing how that changed i mean before that we know with the violence gang violence and the drug violence that was happening in a lot of cities around the country it was just kind of people just said well that’s what comes along with drugs but then soon as it was you know middle class and suburban white people that started dying it was oh my gosh this is a health crisis and even in this i mean we’re in a rural conservative community so when you know when i was young i got locked up for marijuana at 17 ended up doing a year in jail for possession of marijuana which is still on my record and now you know you could it’s almost legal and it’s kind of silly how you know they aren’t willing to to go back and retroactively fix records for people or or clean up you know some of the damage that some of those policies have caused so i i’m not sure if that your offense was one that you could ultimately get expunged but it you know it seems like and and i think this is directed toward communities of color is is like you know we’ll build a new jail before we build a new school and even though we don’t have a need for it you know there’s a lot of money involved in building a new jail from the actual construction of it to running of it to you know we’ve privatized our criminal ju our prisons even though uh president biden said you know they’re gonna do away with that but in privatizing our prisons cities have to actually sign contracts agreeing to provide a certain percentage of inmates or population to make it profitable for the for-profit prison so where do you think they’re getting those people from yeah and that’s in our county too the local uh detention center is one of the largest employers in the county it’s the sheriff’s office and the detention centers yeah yeah you know i just opened i just opened uh my sunday paper up man and they’ve got an article in there about the uh the baltimore city gun trace task force the cops they got locked up because they were sticking up deal as they they had a criminal enterprise going on that was unbelievable and i think that speaks to one of the big issues man is is that there’s so much money involved in this you know people are they’re subject to do anything i i hate to go back to scarface but i remember when cocaine started being flooded into the united states especially florida it came with an awful lot of violence but we also need to look at the other aspect of it is that the money that’s generated by illegal drugs is sustaining a lot of systems and a lot of families in communities of color you know and also the bottom line is it’s not many people that reach kingpin status i mean you know they just die young man and and you know it’s it’s about territory and it’s about protecting yours and so nobody is really getting super rich off of this except the folks that somehow can get the drugs into the country yeah and there’s currently there’s a netflix special called crack which i just watched recently i mean and again i don’t have that firsthand experience because i grew up in rural white county but it’s fascinating like i’ve done a lot of uh personal i call it research on just the history of the war on drugs and the impacts on different communities and yeah and watching that was pretty pretty uh insightful you know from a from an outside perspective to think wow like it’s easy to see how young men can get caught up in that amount of money being flooded into a community you know and you could go work at mcdonald’s for at the time what was 350 or four dollars an hour or you could go stand on the corner for a couple of hours and make a couple of hundred bucks i mean it’s yeah but chances are you work a shift at mcdonald’s you’re going to go home yeah you know you’re taking your life in your hand every single second but if you go back man and look at what sort of like drove this policy in the united states so we had a lot of guys young guys that were drafted and and went to war in vietnam and i’ve heard a number of my friends talk about the only way that they were able to make it through the vietnam i don’t want to call it a freaking experience make it through and come out a lot was they had to use drugs so drug use was really prevalent over there especially opiates or opium and heroin and so a lot of our soldiers developed addictions and it got so bad that guys were coming back and they had these addictions it got so bad that nixon implemented a policy that you could not if you were in vietnam you could not come back to the states until you could give a clean urine all right because they were just trying to nip that at the butt and so what happened is the guys stay clean long enough to give a urine to come back in country and come back home and then once they did man they picked up again and nixon declared this war on drugs and and i think it once again it was targeted to communities of color but it was also when we had he he designated our first drug czar came under nixon and so you know depending on the drugs are it sort of like spoke to whatever policy that the united states was operating in and it seemed to be lock em up process you know here we are in 2021 and i’m still seeing some of this going but uh you know the issues have gotten a lot bigger you know you we our general assembly session is going on now in annapolis and we’re looking at things like a good samaritan bill like if you and and um jason were using together and one of you od the other could feel safe calling the police and not have to worry about getting locked up or have to go to jail unless you have outstanding warrants or something like that but the police aren’t using it in that effect and they’re constantly trying to water that down and they don’t want to lose that piece where if i lock somebody up jason is using and you’re using you go to the hospital i lock jason up and jason tells on who his dealer is that like that so they always want to continue to flip you and so we’ve got good samaritan laws we’ve got a lot of harm reduction legislation that’s going on now like overdose prevention sites uh ops uh another name for it is sith safe injection sites or facilities safe injection facilities there’s a lot of pushback on that but if we are approaching this and looking at this as a public health issue you know they have the uh overdose prevention sites in canada and and other countries and there’s never been an overdose death at these sites so why wouldn’t we as a country and as a public health system think about implementing them if we can because the most important thing is we really don’t care about the people that are dying you know each of these systems is set up to have you come to recidivate whether it’s the criminal justice system or the treatment system so you have to ask yourself where is your commitment where is your commitment to somebody that is struggling with this i’m a big recovery proponent and you know it wasn’t until probably like about 2013 2014 that you started seeing resources coming from the feds for recovery focus like voices of hope uh is somewhat new but they’ve been around for a while in their recovery community organization and they could write literally right to the feds for a particular grant and we started seeing a lot of that recovery focused money go away or it’s it’s being directed toward licensed treatment programs and not community-based programs like voices of recovery that are really doing the grassroots work and that are really the safety net for the treatment system and i think that speaks also to the whole peer movement you know we everybody’s using peers now but nobody wants to pay them i guess on the vein of of treatment and and things coming to our communities more treatment options we know recovery housing is a big thing that’s i know you’ve worked in that field for a while and advocating for recovery housing helping with different policies for recovery housing so it seems that there is a broad definition when it comes to recovery housing anywhere from a place that doesn’t seem to have what i’ll say is almost any recovery going on to places that are more regulated with requirements and things like that what things can we do or what should we be looking at to help protect the addicts from getting into better housing versus not so good housing or some of the the predatory practices that happen in some of these recovery houses hmm wow i think one of the things is we have unrealistic expectations on what of what we expect from recovery residents and recovery housing just because you put that term recovery house in front of it does not mean that that house or that owner is committed or obligated other than providing uh shelter for that person hopefully that they’re going to encourage them to go to 12-step meetings or they’re going to encourage them to go to meetings and maybe to get a sponsor and get a home group but the bottom line is most of these houses as long as you pay your rent or your program fee they leave you alone man and and you’re right i i got involved in this probably over 25 years ago because i ran a really large program in baltimore city and we housed about 150 people in single rooms and so we did men women custodial parents veterans seniors but we also i also began to see some of the ugly side or the underbelly of recovery housing people that were coming out of treatment were so desperate for housing they were willing to move into any situation rather than going back into an unhealthy situation like somebody in the in their their house is using and they don’t want to go back there so i’ve seen them stack them high in addicts i’ve seen them put them in basements i’ve seen them put them in basements of water i’ve seen co-ed housing i’ve seen a lot of but i’ve also seen a lot of good ones and so i think there is a role for recovery residents because the bottom line is once you finish treatment whether it’s residential or or you know you finish your iop op or you’re in your iop op and you don’t have a place to live and that’s where the recovery residents come in you know some people you know they want to move into one a because they don’t have any place to go or b they want to be in a supportive network so you know it’s just like anything else man you’ve got people that will uh that are unscrupulous unethical and will take advantage of uh it’s one of the reasons why the state issued that rf request for a proposal back in 2012 for somebody a organization to organize recovery housing and my company got that grant and so the state is trying to implement standards but here’s the thing with the standards they’re also trying to determine or dictate what goes on in the houses in other words they’re asking for an awful lot from recovery houses but aren’t sending the resources along with it you know right now if you’re a recovery resident your primary source of income is a state program maryland recovery net that actually goes to the resident in the house not the program the resident gets the mdrn award if you will it’s about two thousand dollars and they can choose to use some of that money to cover their program fees or their rent and you know you’ve got a lot of recovery residents now that to diversify their funding man they’ve transitioned into full-time treatment programs so they’re doing iop and they’re doing intensive outpatient they’re doing outpatient they’re doing mental health but you’re still going to have those bad actors right because they’re taking advantage of a sister there’s a population that doesn’t have a place to lay their head at night and don’t worry about it come here you know i’ll take your team which is your your your benefits your social service benefits and you’ll owe me a little bit extra more more than that but you know i’ve seen a lot of good programs too right you know i’ve seen a lot of programs where the owners are spending money out of their pocket like crazy that you know i’ve seen programs that go from one house to 10 to 12 to 15 because they just had a smart business plan um so i think recovery houses run the gamut i’m passionate about it man because my recovery started in 93 via the salvation army adult rehabilitation center so for working in their stores or driving the salvation army trucks we could stay in their rehabilitation center and it was it was really comfortable and then i left there and i went to a homeless shelter for men just because i didn’t want to go back into my previous living environment and i was there like about four months when they offered me the job running my first two recovery houses and within a month i was running like eight of them so i’ve seen the upside and the benefits of a lot of recovery initiation happens within that recovery residence setting but like i said we got some bad ones yeah well i definitely think recovery housing plays a really beneficial role like you said for people coming out of treatment or people that need to get to change their living environment are there any things you would recommend for people that are looking for recovery housing like what things they should look for or family members what things they should look for before going into a residence well you know first of all there’s this thing called telegraph telephone and telling addicts so i would first ask around for folks that might have had some experiences with recovery residents and now because a lot of jurisdictions are using peers or peer recovery specialists a lot of the peers are familiar with the well-run programs and they’re not well-run programs so you know you can always check with a peer and see and there’s actually a directory on the behavioral health administration’s website where you can look it doesn’t tell you if they tell you to house it or tell you the owner but it won’t tell you if the program is well run or not but the same way that you apply for residency in a house you can quasi interview them i wouldn’t go in with a long ass list of questions but you know and if a program in interviewing for them is is willing to let you talk to their residents i think it speaks well to how a program is run and the bottom line is if you move in one and and it doesn’t suit you or there’s some unhealthy stuff going on you can move you know it’s your choice uh and you can vote with your feet i don’t like it here i’m moving but in a lot of cases man people don’t know that they have the rights and they’re willing to put up with a bunch of crap rather than take a chance of going back out there in the streets so we’ve got the certification process now so i think it’s helped a little bit but i’ve always believed that and and i’m working with the houses now is that they really need to self-police themselves you know because uh what affects one affects all of nissl velcro effect and people already have bad opinions of of what recov what goes on in recovery houses

this episode has been brought to you by voices of hope inc a non-profit grassroots recovery community organization located in maryland voices of hope is made up of people in recovery family members and allies together members strive to protect the dignity and respect of those that use drugs and those in recovery by advocating for treatment support resources and mentoring please visit us at www.voicesofhopecilmd.org and consider donating to our calls

yeah my experience has been i think good house managers make a huge difference you know if you have house managers that are actively engaged in recovery because you could see the same the same house over a period of time i’ve been in recovery we’re a small rural community so i’ve known you know i know what houses are out there and have known guys that have come in and out of the different programs and they almost can change over time with the personalities of the house manager or some of the people in the house so yeah it’s so that’s a danger and it’s true and i go back to my experience when i got my first two houses my process was do as i say do not as i do so i’m out there practicing a lot of unhealthy behaviors like the tricking and everything but i want to hold my guys accountable the thing about uh house managers and everything is is that the turnover is so high because programs can’t afford to pay a house manager the best they can do is maybe give you free room and board maybe a small stipend but usually it’s just free room and board and the question is you know you’ve got a house and it’s open 24 hours a day or it operates on this but you’ve got a house manager that might need to work a full-time job in order you know to take care of their bills and everything and in a lot of cases what i found is the house manager might have two days more clean than than the resident that’s moving in and so we’ve been pushing and there’s been a lot of discussion the last couple of years of how we create a funding stream so that we can a train house managers but also be you know give them some type of renumeration so there isn’t such a drastic turnover in in the house managers you know and then you have you have those like when i started out again also you know they don’t have a clue of how to do de-escalation or anything they just want to run roughshod over the guys and it’s not best way but you know you do have some programs that have a house manager and they’ve been able to generate enough income where they can do that you know some programs will have if it’s more than one house they’ll have one guy that’s like overseeing all of the houses there and he might make somebody in the house a senior resident more so than a house manager so there are different models to it but you know house managers in and of itself or depending on them i think is is is a myth has been involved in baltimore city and that recovery community as long as you have been are there other important pieces that we think we need in some of these communities to help like how do we how do we connect like recovery community organizations with the communities that need them the most and what needs do we see in a lot of the i mean it seems like the the poorer the community the more left behind they get by the policies that are out there now how do we get funding or resources to these communities that need them the most are you talking to the actual physical community like the neighborhood how do we get like the neighborhoods wow well i think there has to be the willingness on the part of the system to do that you know most of the times when a helper a recovery community organization or a treatment program you know they’re trying to open in a community they make all of these promises and then once they get there they sort of like forget the promises that they made to the community itself and bottom line is um addiction and drugs are a symptom of a larger problem within communities and in a lot of times you know just having a treatment program or a recovery house isn’t going to positively impact or turn that situation around so i think yeah we need a treatment program yeah we need a recovery house but we also need some development we need some jobs we need a bunch of stuff and i think you know just these small interjections of of resources is not enough to turn a community around and then you know there’s always that not my backyard issue dude is that people you know everybody agrees you know treatment is a good thing yeah a recovery house is good but just not in my backyard you know i i just don’t want it so and then also expecting recovery residences or treatment programs to be a panacea for the ills of a community i think is disingenuous and you know you we we can’t fix the problems because we might have contributed to them but we aren’t the answer to it we can do our part by turning our lives around but ultimately this is a bigger problem and you know they’re just not putting the resources in our communities man they just aren’t you know i i talked earlier about the state opioid response money the soar is the acronym and the first award that we got from the feds was 100 million over two years and most of that money believe it or not went to treatment programs and other friends of the state and a lot of it did not filter its way down to community-based organizations or recovery residences so you know we need to look at that side of it too i mean treatment i i’ll give you an example so i did a lot of uh policy and advocacy work in annapolis when i was executive director for it’s a group called the it’s the maryland chapter of the national council on alcoholism and drug dependence ncadd and so every year during between january and april our general assembly session is in effect in annapolis and so every year i would testify at the budget hearings for previously it was the alcohol and drug abuse administration and then it became the behavioral health administration so we would testify so the process was the department would get up first and on either on the house side or the senate side so it would be the secretary and his or her deputies and they would talk and the budget analysts would talk on why they think this is a good budget or why something needs to be cut and then after that they will begin calling panels and usually the first panel they called was executive directors from treatment programs and i remember being down there one year and i was waiting for my turn to testify and this was the year that there was language in the budget to peel off some treatment money and put it in recovery to ear market for recovery support services and the treatment systems were against it and the treatment provided the executive wreck got up and said you know i think this recovery thing is a good thing but not at the expense of treatment in other words you can’t get the recovery unless you go through treatment so we need every single dollar now these are the same people that come to us every year asking us to go to annapolis to testify and support them and here we are as an emerging organization entity the recovery community trying to advocate for some resources some dedicated resources and this is the response we get from our quote unquote partners so i think in the case man that we’ve had to fight long and hard to get money earmarked or dedicated specifically for recovery and recovery services and yeah so that’s our battle right now you know i hear that from my wife a lot that’s what she writes grants and she gets so frustrated when the money goes to for-profit treatment providers and not to non-profit recovery-based organizations so you know here’s the thing and and i’m working with the group now is that you know the reason that treatment can get what they get and mental health and get what they is because they have strong organized advocacy movement in other words in treatment programs there are a number of member organizations like matsy madc which is the maryland addiction director’s council in baltimore city it’s the substance abuse directorate which is executive directors of treatment programs in baltimore city uh we have a huge medication community they operate under something called maytag and so because these groups have organized and they’re speaking with a single voice they’ve been able to advance their positions and advocate for themselves the recovery community hasn’t figured out how to do that yet because every and i’m not sure that they don’t have the capacity to i’m not sure if it’s just that they haven’t had anybody organized or if it’s just a case of you know we’re so used to organizing by our bootstraps and not sharing with everybody that that we just we’re going it alone but if the recovery community ever figures out how to organize and to work through their issues and to speak with one voice you will get recovery community organization like voices as a matter of fact if i’m not mistaken voices of hope got money and then the health department decided they wanted to reallocate it which sucks yeah and jim will be the first person that they call for something yeah and you can’t have it both ways i i know i know your wife billy and i know how much how passionate she cause i’ve seen her man i’ve seen her involved and lord knows we wouldn’t be as far along as we are as as a community if it wasn’t for people like like like your wife so everybody talks about peers and everything but a lot of folks don’t understand the history of the peer movement and you know i don’t took my own horn man but i was working for baltimore’s treatment system back in 2010 2011 i spent five years there i had also been doing work with organized recovery nationally with groups like faces and voices of recovery it’s where i got introduced to c car which is the connecticut community for addiction recovery which is the model that peers are are based on i convinced my boss at the time to send a team of us up to connecticut and we took the c car training and we took the t.o.t to train the trainer and we came back here and we started the baltimore recovery corps initiative so we trained the first 250 peers and i think your wife sort of like came in if not that cohort then shortly after it and then she took it and she ran with it man and that’s the whole idea with training people in recovery is because there are a lot of passionate people there are a lot of people with ideas there are a lot of people that can take this thing and advance it it’s just that we’re not speaking with one voice you know it’s jen having to go up against the cecil county health department or you know you have to take whatever crumbs that they distribute even though she’s trying to maintain a recovery community center she’s trying to put people in treatment she’s trying to employ peers and no dedicated funding stream not to mention the fact that she ain’t making no money i’m quite sure which sucks you know i mean you put your life into it and the hours into it that you do well anyway i’m gonna get off my soapbox there there is a big need for recovery residences i’ve always advocated that they truly are the safety net for this system for the treatment system or the behavioral health system and if they are they need to be treated and resourced accordingly now the thing is is that a lot of folks don’t have the experiences on you know if you get money how to manage a budget how not to blow it or or misappropriate it or something like that but they’ve created somewhat of a level playing field because you know recovery residents now can get approved and actually build on the medicaid and so that you know they’re doing that now for the housing piece but my hope is is that eventually we’ll come up with a service menu what types of services would you like to see in recovery residences like you were talking about earlier and then have them become reimbursable into medicaid uh and that’s where i’m hoping we get to yeah well and i’m sure my wife will appreciate your praise she said the same about you she said you’ve been a sometimes loud voice out there fighting for the people that that don’t have a voice you know that aren’t being heard in a community that a lot of times gets left behind so that’s one of the reasons she suggested that we talk to you is that that she recognizes you’re out there too fighting the good fight so yeah man and i see it in your wife and i see it in others after i left the housing program that i was running i had been there for like eight years and i went to an organization called cpha the citizens planning and housing association it was it was a long time community-based organization and i got hired as a drug treatment organizer and that’s where i developed this approach that advocate versus activists and finding that balance when it’s you know you want to be an advocate and that time sometimes that activist you have to get up in people’s faces and so my motto is to agitate but not alienate and that is a very fine line because you need people you’re going to have to go back to them again and so you don’t want to totally burn bridges but you don’t want to sit by and let them blow smoke up your butt either and and just you know you call it what it is and so that’s that fine line and and she’s been able to do that and i’ve seen others that have been able to do that and and i mean i’m encouraged as somebody in long-term recovery our gains have been slow but we have made gains our gains i think we’re going to see it come around again because we’ve got people that are publicly declared in recovery that are in positions of power in dc now so the deputy secretary for samhsa substance abuse mental health services administration is my friend tom cordair tom is a guy from rhode island uh he was the youngest state senator in rhode island he got elected at 25 his mom was in the state center for years and so when uh his state senator uh resigned tom ran for office and he got elected at 25. i don’t know if it was too much power or too much stress but he got caught up in alcohol and he got caught up in drugs and the leadership in the state assembly rather than just kicking him out totally they redistrict his area and he lost the next election within a couple of years he had been locked up for cocaine selling it and using it so he had this huge fall from grace all right and he finally went into treatment and he left our treatment he went to a recovery house and he talked about how he was scared he was in a recovery house but he was scared he didn’t know what he wanted to do what he needed to do he was sort of like paralyzed but he got involved in advocacy and there was a group that was doing advocacy at the state capitol well tom’s experience was he was a former legislator at the state capitol so he ended up chairing their legislative arm and that got him back in the fight and then this national group faces some voices of recovery was looking for a field organizer and so he got hired there and then he ended up being a regional administrator for samsung now he’s the head guy at samsa you know we’ve had quite a few people in recovery that have ascended to positions where they can make key decisions that have the potential to impact uh recovery communities like last year samhsa decided they weren’t going to support or acknowledge national recovery month anymore when i first came around man they were like five six seven years every every september i applied to samsa for 25 000 and they they gave it to us to do recovery focused event but the last administration recovery wasn’t that important so we’re encouraged as people in recovery the nominated secretary of the interior is a person in recovery secretary of labor marty walsh was the former mayor of boston he’s publicly acknowledged the fact that he’s in recovery and his issues with drugs and alcohol so slowly but surely they’re knocking down these barriers that stigmatize people that have struggled with substance use disorder and we’re moving up man i’m encouraged by that because you know it used to be this is saying nothing about us without us and then it was like well we need a seat at the table and i’ve seen that progression and where people in recovery have the seats at the table and are willing to to speak up and first acknowledging that they are in recovery so they’re going to have to listen to us and that’s that’s the key they’re going to have to listen to us and that hopefully in that process you know we’ll begin to deal with the discrimination issue the disparity issues the criminal justice versus public health issues you know because all of this is you know somebody is making money off of each of these issues and i think we lose sight of the fact of the person and how do we help them holistically and that’s where we come in

you have to look at how many people a particular system employs you know it’s like in some jurisdictions especially in western maryland it’s the prison system and so of course they’re going to try to do everything they can to sustain the prison system because that’s putting food on a lot of people’s table and so a public safety the sheriff’s office they probably get x amount of dollars from the feds for interdiction and and if they catch somebody on the road they get a portion of whatever that they confiscate so you know it’s a lot of this is driven by the dollars and so once again that’s where folks and your wife and other folks come up we get a chance to go to these meetings yeah it is a problem but it’s not the problem all right so for as much as we’re going to attack a problem we also need to have resources to help people that somehow make it out of this scenario or situation it’s even harder to advocate in a small community man because everybody knows everybody you know it’s it’s it’s hard i understand small ones like like cecil talbot you know a lot of them from east of the bay and everything their policies are really entrenched they are uh and so as somebody that’s trying to do work like up in cecil county how do you do that we’re not going to get help from our locals you know but we still need to advocate but then people like me are advocating for the state that they need to uh resource local programs and that’s why that latest round of soar money that maryland got state opioid response that money comes through the opioid operational command center or oocc and so the oocc was created specifically by our current governor basically to funnel the response money to local jurisdictions and the first couple years it went to everybody but who it should go to in the second round of funding the organized recovery community and especially parent-led groups like the daniel torch foundation and addiction connection recovery up in harford county some of the other ones you know because they were going to every meeting and they had established these relationships they got on the state and said you need to start funding community-based organizations so as a matter of fact i start a new job tomorrow i had i organized recovery houses for the state for three years under contract they decided in 2015 2016 not to renew the contract they wanted to take all my good work and bring it out so now we can do it as the state so for a couple of three years man i haven’t really done anything i turned 62 a few years ago and so i took my social security and then about eight months after that when i left ncadd i hired a young lady by the name of dr nancy rosen cohen well here we are in 2021 and nancy 12 years later is still the executive director so she came to me about a year and a half almost two years ago and asked me was i interested in doing consulting work for ncadd and that’s what i’ve been doing but i’ve been going through this onboarding process for the last couple of three weeks so starting tomorrow morning i will be the new program director for these place wellness and recovery center that’s located in the heart of east baltimore so i’m getting ready to jump back into the mix full time dude and part of my position is funded through a grant to these place from the oocc so i understand you know i understand so we continue to fight the good fight man because i believe we’re fighting the right fight and i’m always a believer and that you know there are no mistakes out here so if god puts you in a particular position then you know he has something in store for you or some expectation you know that’s what gets me up every morning so for as much as i’m like oh man man get up and do the regular routine they’re calling for snow tomorrow morning yeah but i was down there uh friday just to meet my staff and everything and then i went in yesterday because one of my staff members is flying to the dominican republic today so i needed to get you know what he was doing i needed i had a learning curve with what his functions and duties were so i understand man and i’m quite sure your wife does the same thing it’s definitely not a nine to five linear type thing you know and so i’m trying to be a little bit more disciplined with that it might not be a straight nine to five but i’m not doing no tens and eleven o’clock and twelve o’clock like i used to do in this process man sometimes you be up five and six o’clock in the morning sometimes you’re up twelve and one o’clock trying to work on a damn grant sometimes you’re operating on two hours of sleep but here’s the thing i wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world man my my 27 years in this process have been awesome i went back to school and got my masters i had my first child i bought a home five years in the recovery process and i’m still in there now so i’ve been i’ve celebrated 20 plus years in my home so it you know and i believe the same thing that god has done for me he can do for anybody else that darkens our doorway that comes through there and the thing about it was if you look back man i had a lot of people that supported me on my journey and so that’s what we do every day is to support somebody and give them the hope i think that’s why jen came up with voices of hope yeah it’s just you know just encourage your man you just be there for them and when they’re feeling down or they’re feeling like they can’t do it or life knocks them down that’s where that phrase in the 12-step fellowship will love you until you can learn to love yourself because sometimes you get so caught up you forget about loving yourself man yeah taking that out into a community that oftentimes doesn’t love themselves you know they aren’t you know people use drugs usually because they’re hurting and because they’re damaged and suffered some trauma and sometimes they need just a supporting voice or a friendly face or someone that just says they care to help sort of just nudge them in the right direction so that they can begin to do for themselves our self-esteem takes a major hit man we stop using and and we begin to we’re forced to look at our life especially at our past and we begin to look at more from the things that i did wrong or i hurt or that you know versus you know i still have some some assets and that’s one of the reasons why i like this approach that the feds did a few years ago around um person-centered recovery meaning that if i engage somebody i’m not looking at them like the treatment system the acute care model looks at it from a deficit perspective you’re a person you got a problem i’m the expert you listen to me you’ll be okay versus the person centered which says you know my name’s carlos i’m a person in long-term recovery tell me a little bit about yourself um how can i help you achieve your dreams and your goals and you engage them and you involve them in their process and then understanding man that eventually they’re going to have to deal with their past but just let them know that their past doesn’t have to dictate what their future looks like it is that and so that’s that process hopefully this is an optimistic ending i don’t know maybe i’m setting that up for myself but i mean we just got a new federal administration i know baltimore just appointed a new young mayor who seems to be pretty uh progressive and then of course all the action around the black lives matter movement from the summer like do you feel like these are are positive things that are pushing us in a positive direction like can we start to sort of think like maybe there’s some hope some of this stuff’s going to begin to get better there’s been a lot of pushback with the whole black lives matter thing i sometimes i think that you know the whole black lives matter movement has been if not hijacked folks are using it for their own purposes i had the pleasure man i had friend come in town from virginia and i actually drove over to dc for the where the black lives matter street was and i just didn’t recognize dc man the barriers the fences the it’s like oh my god have we come to this but i’m i’m encouraged in baltimore so we have a state’s attorney that has decided not to prosecute for like small drug offenses she’s been actually uh reviewing cases of folks that are currently incarcerated especially as far as the gun trace task force is concerned because they locked a lot of people up under bad pretenses you know we baltimore has a issue of corrupt elected officials our previous mayor is doing time now in pennsylvania you know our mayor before that she resigned in in disgrace because she was spending gift cards but i’m encouraged about brandon you know he’s a young guy he grew up in the heart of the hood he actually is supportive of overdose prevention sites he actually testified on the bill in annapolis so i’m encouraged about that you know he he understands that we can’t arrest our way out of the problem that it is a public health issue uh i think because he is the leader you know that attitude hopefully will filter down to his various administrations i’m encouraged man you know he’s not from the old guard but i understand you don’t get to be mayor without some elbow rubbing and some other stuff and i am quite sure he’s got a constituency that that he is you know he’s obligated to because of their support but hopefully you know he can still advance some things in our city while still honoring them so i’m encouraged i i’m encouraged a lot i don’t particularly follow politics anymore in that close once he got elected mayor i got off on some other stuff but uh like i said i do some work around harm reduction and he’s been supportive of that and i think that speaks volumes great well yeah thank you very much for your time we appreciate you coming on with us and good luck with your new job tomorrow thank you man yeah i appreciate it i would have much prefer to be up there looking across the table at you but this is cool so thank you guys i appreciate it well thank you so much carlos thanks guys i appreciate you share this podcast with people in your life who might enjoy it check out recoverysordub.com to find our episodes and link up with us on facebook twitter and instagram we’re always looking for new and interesting ideas for topics sort of if you have any ideas for episodes or think you have something to come on and talk about reach out to us


One response to “72: The Failure of Drug Policy to Win the War on Drugs (Sort Of)”

  1. Greetings! Very helpful advice in this particular post! It is the little changes that make the largest changes. Thanks a lot for sharing!