Pubdate: Thu, 27 May 2010
Source: Ventura County Star (CA)
Copyright: 2010 The E.W. Scripps Co.
Author: Timm Herdt


SACRAMENTO -- Steve Day of Camarillo is a Vietnam War combat veteran,
an ex-con and a recovering heroin addict. He's not had an easy life.

Yet when Day, 59, stepped before a podium in the state Capitol on
Wednesday and looked out at the television crews facing him, he was
visibly nervous. "Standing in front of these cameras," he said, "is
the most difficult thing I've ever done."

Joined by retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey, the former White House drug
czar, law enforcement officials and others, Day felt the importance of
what he had to say was more powerful than his fear: If the state
eliminates Medi-Cal funding for drug treatment, as Gov. Arnold
Schwarzenegger has proposed, lives will be lost.

Of most critical concern is the fate of scores of drug-treatment
clinics around the state licensed to administer both methadone and
counseling to an estimated 35,000 Californians addicted to heroin and
other opium-based drugs.

While many recovering drug users, including Day, pay for their daily
doses of methadone out of their own pockets, the clinics could not
survive without Medi-Cal payments, which account for more than half
their revenues.

"We'd have to close," said Stephen Maulhardt of Oxnard, vice president
of Aegis Medical Systems, which operates 25 drug-treatment clinics
around the state, including four in Ventura County. "If you take 54
percent out of our revenue stream, we start bouncing checks."

Schwarzenegger has proposed elimination of Medi-Cal drug-treatment
benefits as part of a massive cut in health and social services
programs that he says is necessary to close a $19.1 billion budget
shortfall without raising taxes.

Clinic advocates say such a move would be an economic disaster for the
state. It would save $53 million, but would lose $85 million in
matching federal funds. And, they argue, the act of turning 35,000
recovering opiate addicts loose on the streets would within a year
result in an additional $700 million in costs for jails, courts,
emergency rooms, foster care and other social services that would stem
from drug users returning to their addictions.

"Studies prove that most of these individuals will relapse to heroin
use," said Jason Kletter, president of a state association of
drug-treatment clinics. "The governor's proposal will immediately
increase crime and cause chaos in our hospitals."

"From a policy perspective, it's just a disaster," McCaffery said.
"We've built slowly an inadequate, but effective treatment capacity. A
lot of these institutions are going to start collapsing."

Drug treatment and law enforcement experts say there are two
populations that most need methadone treatment: heroin addicts, who
are generally older, and a rising number of young people addicted to
opiate-based prescription painkillers such as Oxycontin and Vicodin.

McCaffrey said these people live "a life of abject horror," but
because of comprehensive treatment programs that include methadone
intervention programs "a miracle can occur in greater than 90 percent
of the cases."

Success rates are much lower in treatment programs for alcoholism,
marijuana use or other street drugs such as methamphetamines. 
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