Everyone’s talking about the economy lately, and all levels of government are working on balancing their budgets in this time of crisis. Many advocates are asking for more money for a variety of causes, including law enforcement and medical treatment for those with drug or alcohol problems. While it sounds like a good idea to spend money to get some of these drug users off the street and in prison or the hospital where they can get help, this sort of “band-aid” approach is being criticized lately.
Columbia University’s Study on Government Spending for Substance Abuse
A recent report by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University gave the results of a three year study about the cost of addiction for our government. The researchers assessed the costs of tobacco, alcohol, and illegal and prescription drug abuse, and the results were significant. An estimated $468 billion was spent by the government in 2005 to deal with substance abuse and addiction. Most of those costs went toward direct health care costs or law enforcement, while only 1.9% of the money was allocated for treatment or prevention of substance abuse. In other words, instead of using money to fix the problem, our government had to spend most of the money dealing with the consequences of substance abuse.
On top of those costs, we have indirect impacts, such as domestic abuse, homelessness, and other problems. Added up, the issue of substance abuse is a huge problem in our country, and many people are tired of paying for it. While we all want to see our streets safer, our family members getting help, and our kids not exposed to drugs, it may take more than just locking drug dealers up to solve our addiction problem. People need to be educated and a prevention program needs to be put in place. We spend way too much time and energy dealing with the consequences, not coming up with solutions and preventing the problem.
Prevention and Treatment
So what do we do? How can we stop pumping money into a system that simply punishes substance abusers when they mess up enough, and then is left with the cost to medically treat them when their bodies have begun to fail?
First of all, we need to invest in education and prevention programs for those at high risk for substance abuse and the public in general. Secondly, we need to encourage the use of treatment facilities that really work. It is important to have accurate reports that show the effectiveness of different types of treatment and if a facility is going to receive funding, they should be able to produce long-term results. By effectively treating those with addictions and working harder to prevent new people from abusing drugs or alcohol, we will be really dealing with the problem of substance abuse.
Eckholm, Erik Governments’ Drug-Abuse Costs Hit $468 Billion, Study Says May 28, 2009 http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/28/us/28addiction.html?ref=usLinkedin