Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Savings in alcohol, drug addiction treatment an Illusion

Nearly $18 million in state funds earmarked for alcohol and drug treatment was diverted to other uses in 2006, according to a watchdog agency report released last week.

If that sounds like a cost savings, think again.

In the same year, 1,185 men and women were sent back to prison because of probation violations. Fifty-seven percent are drug users, according to the Virginia Department of Corrections. The department expects these "technical violators" to increase to 3,000 inmates over the next five years.

This trend is one factor contributing to growth in the state's prison population, which will require Virginia to build one new prison a year for six years. Each new 1,000-bed prison will cost about $100 million to build and $25 million annually to operate.

Suddenly, an extra $18 million to help drug addicts kick the habit sounds like a good deal.

Analysts with the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission said the state is doing a poor job in evaluating which treatment and prevention programs are most effective, but it did find evidence that recidivism is lower among inmates who complete drug programs.

But drug treatment is not just for criminals behind bars. JLARC said few services are available for school dropouts and children of substance abusers. Adults indicated in a survey that they have trouble finding transportation and someone to watch their children so they can obtain drug treatment. Providers are unwilling to treat low-income people because the government-funded Medicaid program reimburses only a fraction of the true costs.

Drug treatment programs shouldn't be just about saving money. They should be motivated by the desire to save men, women and children from the misery of addiction. However, the financial benefits are clear. Eighteen million dollars won't solve all of the problems, but that money does nothing if it is left unused. A penny saved will cost Virginia far more in dollars and lives.
source: The Virginian Pilot