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California Must Continue Funding Alcohol and Drug Treatment

by James Heller 1. June 2009 07:47
California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has proposed the elimination of Prop 36 funding to help solve the state budget deficit.  He has also asked for cuts in Drug Medi-Cal funding of 10% along with rehabilitation services in the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

When considering California’s budget cuts, the Governor and Legislature must take into account that programs aimed at alcohol and drug treatment actually result in a net savings to the state.  Whether the recipients who benefit are low-income individuals or non-violent drug offenders, statistics show that these programs are a net benefit to our economy and cutting them will only do harm.

Programs That Save

State funded programs for non-violent drug offenders like Prop 36 are more than just budget spending items.  There is a real return on investment.  Helping individuals to get treatment for alcohol dependence and drug addiction has given them a chance to change the course of their lives.  Thus, the cost for incarceration and parole has decreased along with recidivism.  A UCLA study has calculated that for every $1 spent, there is a cost savings of $2 to California taxpayers.

The Drug Medi-Cal Program provides treatment to low-income individuals who receive state health care benefits.  This funding has proven to reduce health care costs to the state and counties, and the benefits to the lives of recipients are incalculable.

Problem Areas

The current practice of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation is to send parolee drug offenders back to prison, rather than to treatment.  Some parolees are even violated when they are in treatment, sending them back to prison and risking a reversal of the positive course the parolee had taken.  

Currently, some incarcerated persons voluntarily enter addiction treatment with the hope of bettering their lives.  Unfortunately, since they are still subject to parole upon release from prison, many of them are violated on technicalities and sent back to prison.  These practices simply recycle individuals in the criminal justice system, provide no real solution to crime, and hurt the economy.

Individuals suffering from co-occurring substance abuse and mental health disorders are eligible for services under Proposition 63, but not currently funded through that program.  This has placed the financial burden on state alcohol and drug programs (AOD), and limits treatment due to mismanagement of funding which is simply wasteful.

Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) has helped to improve the lives of those who cannot seem to break free from drug addiction.  Funding of programs that support MAT has not been updated to include new medications and treatments.  Many low-income persons are therefore unable to receive treatment that will move their lives in a positive direction.

Solutions to Increase Savings

Continuation of funding for Prop 36 will save millions of dollars on incarceration costs, court costs, and will ensure that California continues to receive federal grant funds.  Non-violent drug offenders belong in treatment where they learn to live drug free, giving them the chance to become productive members of society.  California also receives federal Substance Abuse Prevention & Treatment (SAPT) Block Grant funds due in part to the continuation of Prop 36 state funding.

California’s Legislative Analyst has made recommendations regarding parole reform to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation that should be adopted.  The current one-size-fits-all system needs to be changed to accept treatment as a valid alternative to parole, if not only as a positive step for ex-convicts.  This change would lead to real rehabilitation for those seeking it, and some of the cost savings for incarceration can be diverted to alcohol and drug treatment.  

The state would save an estimated $500 million to $1 billion on incarceration and $135 million on parole for low-level drug offenders if the Legislative Analyst’s recommended changes were to be adopted.

Expand community post incarceration aftercare programs established under (SB 1453, Speier) Chapter 875, Statutes of 2006.  This program guarantees community treatment for individuals who participate in in-custody treatment.  Those who complete treatment would have their parole ended.  CDCR should utilize the current capacity in the SASCA system as well to expand this program.  

Adopt budget control language to direct all dual diagnosed co-occurring (substance abuse and mental health) individuals be funded with Proposition 63 funds.  This will place individuals with co-occurring disorders in the proper funding streams and maximize their access to appropriate services.

Enact AB 244 (Beall) that will bring private health insurance into conformance with the newly enacted federal Parity Law, meeting the governor’s goals of health care reform, and relieving the taxpayers of underwriting treatment that should be paid by their health insurance companies.

Enact AB 417 (Beall) that will realize cost savings through using MAT in treatment.  These savings will come from more cost-effective medications and treatment.  The savings can then be reinvested back into the Drug MediCal program for its expansion.

Save Programs that Help the Economy

The goal of the Governor and Legislature in California should be to continue programs that help our economy, and cut wasteful programs.  Short-term cuts to alcohol and drug treatment programs that have proven to help the overall economy in California will cause long-term costs and increase crime.  It appears quite obvious that these programs should be continued, improved, and even expanded in order to help California back to a stable economy.