Pubdate: Mon, 02 Aug 2004
Source: Times Record (ME)
Copyright: 2004 Times Record Inc., ASC Inc
Author: Victoria Wallack
Bookmark: (Treatment)


AUGUSTA - Despite the growing focus on prescription drug abuse in Maine -
particularly opiates like OxyContin - a new study of the societal costs of
drug abuse shows that alcohol remains the culprit by a ratio of 70 percent
to 30 percent.

The study released today says the combined annual cost of substance
abuse in Maine - paid by both the private and public sector - is $618
million, but abuse of drugs other than alcohol in Maine made up only
30 percent of that cost, compared to the national average of 41 percent.

The only category where other drugs surpassed alcohol was in the costs
associated with crime. While people under the influence of alcohol
committed more crimes that victimized people than those using other
drugs, it simply costs more to hunt down, prosecute and punish those
who break anti-drug laws.

"A lot of our focus in the past four or five years has been on drugs,"
said Kim Johnson, director of the Office of Substance Abuse for the
Maine Department of Health and Human Services. Her office did the
report. "A lot of our attention has been diverted, particularly to
prescription drugs. This indicates we need to continue our focus on

Johnson believes alcohol is still the drug of choice in Maine because
it is available. The media, she said, have given a lot of attention to
the spike in drug overdose deaths in the last couple years - close to
100 largely attributed to heroin and its treatment replacement,
Methadone - but drugs like heroine and cocaine are still found more
often in urban areas, while alcohol is prevalent in all parts of the

The point of the study, based largely on data gathered in 2000, was to
put a cost on substance abuse as one measure of the harm it does.
Whether it's alcohol, drugs or both, the costs are significant:

- - There were 541 deaths attributed to abuse, either directly - a fatal
crash or overdose, for example - or indirectly because of disease, for
a cost of $140 million. That number is driven by the lost earnings
capacities of those who died.

- - The criminal activity attributed to substance abuse and the cost to
police, prosecute and punish those breaking the laws was $128 million.

- - Medical care, including more than 7,500 hospital stays a year
associated with medical conditions directly or indirectly related to
drug or alcohol abuse cost $113 million.

- - Morbidity, or reduced output from people as a result of drug or
alcohol abuse, cost $97 million.

- - Other related costs - the most significant being $68 million in
child welfare for kids whose caretakers abuse alcohol or other drugs -
totaled $120 million.

- - And, the amount spent on treatment for people with dependency
problems was $19 million.

The bulk of the treatment, which included 16,700 admissions into
medical and rehabilitation facilities, was paid for by public funds -
either state general funds, Medicaid dollars or federal block grants -
while only 14 percent came from private sources, including insurance,
the study shows.

Johnson said that's because most people deplete their financial
resources, and often lose their job, before seeking help.

"People don't tend to seek out treatment until they've had so many
losses they have no other choice," Johnson said.

What she found surprising in the treatment numbers was that too little
is spent in the early stages of abuse and therefore so much has to be
spent on medical treatment.

"We're waiting too long; people aren't getting treated for their
illness," she said, and they're winding up in the hospital with
end-stage kinds of problems like drug-or alcohol-induced psychoses.

Johnson said her department did the study to help determine where
money can most effectively be spent to reduce the substance abuse
problem in Maine.

"It's important to know what something costs because that helps us
prioritize how you spend taxpayer dollars in addressing different
things. Particularly given tight fiscal times, we have to think about
what are the costs and what are the benefits," she said.
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MAP posted-by: Larry Seguin