Full article in the New York Times at
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Filed at 9:03 a.m. ET
NEW YORK (AP) — Based on the rhetoric, America’s war on drugs seems poised to shift into a more enlightened phase where treatment of addicts gains favor over imprisonment of low-level offenders. Questions abound, however, about the nation’s readiness to turn the talk into reality.
The economic case for expanding treatment, especially amid a recession, seems clear. Study after study concludes that treating addicts, even in lengthy residential programs, costs markedly less than incarcerating them, so budget-strapped states could save millions.
The unmet need for more treatment also is vast. According to federal data, 7.6 million Americans needed treatment for illicit drug use in 2008, and only 1.2 million — or 16 percent — received it.
But the prospect of savings on prison and court costs hasn’t produced a surge of new fiscal support for treatment. California’s latest crisis budget, for example, strips all but a small fraction of state funding away from a successful diversion and treatment program that voters approved in 2000.
”It’s easy to talk a good game about more treatment and helping people,” said Scott Burns, executive director of the National District Attorneys Association. ”But it smashes head on into reality when they don’t put their money where their mouth is.”
Money aside, the treatment field faces multiple challenges. At many programs, counselors — often former addicts themselves — are low-paid and turnover is high. Many states have yet to impose effective systems for evaluating programs, a crucial issue in a field where success is relative and relapses inevitable.
”Fifty percent of clients who enter treatment complete it successfully — that means we’re losing half,” said Raquel Jeffers, director of New Jersey’s Division of Addiction Services. ”We can do better.”