It's almost impossible to live in Baltimore without hearing it declared that the city has 60,000 drug addicts. "That number has been invoked, over and over by countless media and government officials, as shocking shorthand for the city's many ills," Alec MacGillis writes in today's Baltimore Sun. "It has prevailed, like a broken gauge on a gas tank, through four mayors, a large drop in the city's overall population and major changes in the narcotics trade. In truth, the number is almost certainly wrong. It was, at best, a hit-or-miss guess to begin with."
In his piece, MacGillis shows just how shaky the number is—and why it keeps getting cited anyway. The key quote comes from a professor at Johns Hopkins: "If you're needing to get resources, you say the problem is as bad as possible."