As the post-September 11th economy faces difficult times, governments, like individuals, families and businesses, seek ways to save money. Government security, public health and anti-terrorism initiatives will be costly and elected officials need to be looking for ways to do things more efficiently. The old saying, "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" has wisdom worth heeding.
Some of the clearest "ounce of prevention" savings available are in the area of alcohol and drug addiction. States spend over 13% of their budgets on chemical dependency. For every dollar spent, 96 cents goes to "shovel up the wreckage" caused by chemical dependency and only four cents for prevention and treatment.* Minnesota spends less than average, 8.1% of our budget, on chemical dependency (CD) related costs. Of each dollar Minnesota spends on CD, 38 cents goes for higher health care costs, 33 cents for additional education costs, 19 cents for crime and corrections costs. Only six cents is used for prevention and treatment.
According to Joseph Califano, president of the Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, state governments spend 113 times more "to shovel up the wreckage of children savaged by substance abuse and addiction…than they spend to encourage children to stay away from these substances and treat those who ignore that advice."
This lack of prevention is shortsighted. A 1993 study commissioned by the state of California showed that every tax dollar spent on chemical dependency treatment saved taxpayers $7 in reduced crime and healthcare costs. This is not a 7% or even a 70% rate of return, but a phenomenal 700% rate of return to taxpayers! These are real "ounce of prevention" numbers.
Last year, when Congress was preparing to boost spending for the War on Drugs, Minnesota Congressman Jim Ramstad called the proposal ludicrous, saying "We're about to spend $2 billion on Columbia for drug eradication and interdiction, while most of the 26 million addicts and alcoholics in the United States are unable to access treatment…even though treatment has proven to be 23 times more cost-effective than eradication of crops and 11 times more cost-effective than interdiction."
William Cope Moyers, president of the Johnson Institute, has said, "Addiction is an equal opportunity and a bipartisan illness. As a nation, we should take a bipartisan approach to making sure everyone has an equal opportunity to recover from this illness."
Congressman Ramstad along with Senator Paul Wellstone provide that bipartisan leadership on the issue of chemical dependency in Congress. They are passionate in fighting to give people access to treatment.
Helping people recover and saving money during difficult economic times are not the only reasons to push for treatment. There are public safety reasons too. Most violent crimes are committed under the influence of alcohol and drugs, including as much as 90% of domestic abuse murders and 100% of DWI deaths. In Minnesota, DWI kills and injures more people than any other crime. Alcohol or drugs are implicated in a whopping 80% of the crimes for which Americans are imprisoned.
These numbers are frightening, but they show how much potential there is for reducing crime by CD prevention and treatment.
Like treatment for cancer, treatment for chemical dependency is not 100% effective, but for millions of people in recovery, it works. It saves lives and prevents crime.
Yes, there are people who think CD treatment is "too expensive." But, for anyone concerned about crime or government spending, the reality is that what is really "too expensive" is the failure to invest in prevention and treatment.
*"Shoveling Up, The Impact of Substance Abuse on State Budgets", January 2001, Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA), Columbia University. www.casacolumbia.org (Also see the 1998 CASA study: Behind bars: substance abuse and America's prison population.)
Check these links for further information:
The Alliance Project, an organization working to build a stronger constituency, including a more active recovery community around the country that will support a more enlightened public response to addiction www.defeataddiction.org
Johnson Institute, an organization "...improving the public's understanding of addiction as a treatable illness, and promoting the power and possibility of recovery from alcoholism and other drug addiction." http://www.johnsoninstitute.org/
For more information on Substance Use and Crime: www.ncadd.org/facts/fyicrime.html or www.hazelden.org/research/publication_detail.cfm?id=120