HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html In Drug Treatment Vs Prison, A Political Shift In Tone
Pubdate: Thu, 14 Feb 2002
Source: Christian Science Monitor (US)
Copyright: 2002 The Christian Science Publishing Society
Author: Alexandra Marks


Bush Proposes A 6 Percent Increase For Treatment Funds - One Of The Few 
Domestic Items To Get A Boost.

NEW YORK - If President Bush has his way, more people like Carolann will 
find themselves in drug treatment rather than jail.

For five years, cocaine ruled the life of this architectural design 
engineer, and almost robbed her of her daughter by consuming her energy and 
affections. She's been in treatment for 11 months and is determined never 
to go back.

In announcing his national strategy to combat illicit drugs this week, Mr. 
Bush made it clear Carolann's success story is the kind the White House 
would like to trumpet as it tries to make drug treatment more widely 
available and socially acceptable. That effort is the most recent and 
highest level indication of a shift in thinking about the role drug 
treatment can play in the overall fight against drug abuse.

For years, advocates have argued that treating addicts was more cost 
effective and humane than putting them in jail. But for more than two 
decades, those arguments lost in the political arena to a "get tough" 
approach that produced increasingly harsh penalties for drug offenders. 
Although some have argued that approach might help reduce the crime rate, 
it has also more than doubled the prison population, while draining state 

Now, Bush is making it clear it's time to rethink the role of treatment. 
"The best way to affect supply is to reduce demand for drugs," he said 
Tuesday. "We can work as hard as we possibly want on interdiction, but so 
long as there is the demand for drugs in this country, some crook is going 
to figure out how to get them here."

More Money

Bush has backed up those words with dollars. Drug treatment was one of the 
few domestic items, other than defense, given an increase in his proposed 
budget. It's about a 6 percent hike, bringing the total drug treatment 
budget to $3.8 billion. That could help almost 550,000 people - about 
50,000 more than last year.

While treatment advocates applaud the shift in tone, they contend that 
extra dollars amount to only drops in the bucket compared with the need. In 
2000, the National Household Survey on Drug Abuse found that 3.9 million 
people who needed treatment did not get it. In treatment circles, the 
accepted estimate is that only 1 in 10 people get the help they need.

"I see too many people who suffer because they can't get it, and it goes 
far beyond the individual. The families suffer as well," says Terry Horton, 
medical director of Phoenix House, one of the country's largest 
drug-treatment organizations.

Public opinion on the issue of treatment has been ahead of politicians for 
some years. Polls show Americans overwhelmingly prefer giving nonviolent 
first- and second-time drug offenders treatment rather than jail time. Part 
of the shift is due to an effort by the National Institute for Drug Abuse 
(NIDA) to highlight studies that have scientists viewing substance abuse as 
a medical disease, rather than as a moral failing.

The Soros Foundation has also played a role by pushing referendums in a 
handful of states that overrode their own lawmakers' get-tough policies.

Last year, California became the second state, after Arizona, where voters 
passed a referendum by large margins that mandates treatment before jail 
time. Similar referendums are planned for Florida, Michigan, and Ohio this 

A handful of states are also increasing drug-treatment options in lieu of 
long prison terms, despite severe budget deficits. And even in states that 
are cutting drug treatment to cope with the economic downturn, the 
rescissions are nowhere near as much as could have been expected just five 
years ago.

But critics of treatment have long noted - and studies confirm - that more 
than half of addicts who get help end up using again within a year. And 
most of the people who need help don't want it, anyway.

The nation's drug czar, John Walters, says that Americans have to change 
the way they deal with addicts at home and at work so that it's not "only 
accepted, but expected" that Americans will step forward when they see 
someone in trouble.

"When a person has a substance-abuse problem, the single biggest challenge 
after getting treatment is recovery, because it's a lifelong challenge," 
says Mr. Walters. "We need to work on a change in the climate in our 
communities, workplaces, and families where we support people in treatment 
and recovery - don't stand back when they relapse, get them back into 
sobriety as soon as possible."

Baltimore is one of the best places to look to understand why treatment 
itself has been rehabilitated. In the late 1990s, it joined San Francisco 
in trying to ensure that every addict that wanted it had access to 
treatment. It was modeled on the Nixon administration's push for "Treatment 
on Demand" back in the early '70s.

By The Numbers

A major three-year study of the Baltimore effort has just been released, 
and the findings show that providing treatment to all comers - even those 
who drop out - substantially reduced not only substance abuse, but also 
crime and risky behaviors that could lead to HIV.

Heroin use was down 69 percent after 12 months. Cocaine abuse dropped by 43 
percent. And there was a 40 percent reduction in arrests, a 52 percent 
increase in employment, and a 67 percent increase in legitimate wages.

"The real thing this study shows is that it affects the entire community 
and taxpayers," says Peter Beilenson, the Baltimore City Health 
Commissioner. "Even if you didn't care about the individual users, the 
immediate pay-offs to the community show we should be making a massive 
commitment to drug treatment nationwide."
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