Soros Group, NCADD Chapter Partner for Baltimore Treatment Advocacy

The Open Society Institute's Baltimore program office is funding treatment-advocacy and harm-reduction activities by the Maryland chapter of the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD Maryland)– an unusual alliance between a mainstream addiction organization and a progressive grantmaker frequently associated with drug legalization.

OSI-Baltimore, part of the Soros network of foundations, has given NCADD Maryland more than $200,000 to support advocacy efforts to promote addiction-treatment and harm-reduction activities.

“Our mission in Baltimore is to expand access to treatment and get treatment on demand,” said Robert Schwartz, program officer for addiction treatment at OSI-Baltimore. “Locally in Baltimore, NCADD has been a good group of advocates for drug treatment. We've given them a number of grants over the years.”

Anne Ciekot, an advocacy consultant for NCADD Maryland, said the relationship with OSI has caused surprisingly little controversy. “One or two treatment providers asked if we were supporting medicalization or legalization of marijuana, but that's not something we take a position on,” she said. Nor has the Maryland chapter received any flak from the national office of NCADD, which tends to be more conservative in its positions on policy issues like harm reduction.

NCADD Baltimore's involvement in harm-reduction issues actually predates its involvement with OSI. “We've always supported needle exchange; we weren't beholden to OSI,” said Ciekot. “There's no strings attached with the OSI money: We told them what we were working on and they have supported the work we are doing.”

Ciekot said that the NCADD Maryland board — comprised mostly of people in recovery — began nurturing a relationship with OSI-Baltimore when the funder opened shop in 1998. “OSI was very interested in our advocacy work,” recalled Ciekot.

That work included treatment advocacy and seeking funds for treatment scholarships. With the OSI funding, NCADD was able to hire Ciekot to direct its advocacy effort and expand its efforts at the state capitol.

“We've been successful over the last five years in getting more state money, and that had to do with the advocacy and organization we did with the previous administration and their commitment to treatment,” said Ciekot. “Now we're trying to hold on and maintain level funding.”

In addition to advocating for treatment access, funding, and parity, NCADD Maryland now is also involved in lobbying for more jail diversion-to-treatment programs and expanding its focus on antidiscrimination issues, such as restoring the right to vote for convicted felons and expunging the records of those who serve their sentences and don't reoffend.

Ciekot coordinates closely with local grassroots recovery-advocacy groups like the Recovery Council of Maryland. “When we need to have real people testify, we draw on people from the recovery council to talk to legislators,” Ciekot said.

Ciekot says OSI deserved credit for supporting the effective advocacy work that NCADD Maryland has done on behalf of people in recovery during the past few years. “OSI has been extraordinarily supportive and generous to NCADD Maryland, and we wouldn't be where we are today without them,” she said.

OSI-Baltimore's Schwartz is equally pleased with the alliance. “One of the best things we can do, along with Join Together's Demand Treatment and others, is to fund these local groups,” he said.

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