When governmentally funded organizations release cost benefit statistics that indicate a single dollar spent on drug treatment saves seven in societal costs, why do we not see a marked increase in public money funding access to drug and alcohol treatment facilities?
A study by the national institute of drug abuse has determined that every $1 dollar in policy money directed towards drug treatment programs has a direct societal savings of $7, and other conservative groups have estimated that the magnitude of savings can swing as far as 12 to 1.
How’d They Get That Figure?
This figure was determined by comparing the long term costs of abuse and the relative costs imposed upon society by those who receive drug treatment, when compared with those that don’t. The figure was determined after evaluating the costs of crime, police enforcement and incarceration, as well as reduced work productivity, and increased health care needs.
- When an investment into access to drug treatment yields a 700% societal return, why are policy makers and governments not rushing to the aid of those suffering addictions, and building ever more treatment facilities as opposed to ever larger prison facilities?
- And when statistics show that the initial motivation towards entering a treatment program has little overall impact over the eventual success rate and sobriety achieved, why are we not sentencing drug offenders to long rehabs rather than to long incarcerations?
The answer I think is largely political, and those that wish to become governing officials realize that it’s a lot easier to sell tough prison sentences on drug offenses, than try to persuade the public to lend their tax dollars to the badly perceived "addict".
20k per year per federal drug inmate
It costs almost $20 000 a year to keep a drug offender in prison, and with the average sentence for a drug offense in a federal prison topping 70 months – Why not use a fraction of that money ordering a court mandated long term period in rehab, that greatly reduces the likelihood of further addiction, and as such greatly reduces the likelihood of a further need for re incarceration?
Attitudes surrounding addiction as a public health issue have been growing in acceptance over the past years, but obviously a lot of work still needs to be done to change the attitudes of voters too easily swayed towards a knee jerk reaction of imprisonment over treatment. The voting public needs to realize that addiction does not mean weakness or immorality, that the face of addiction is the face of America and that all of us are equally at risk to the seductions of substance abuse.
It’s in our nature to use and abuse mind altering substances, and rather than fight human nature with inefficient prison terms, we should be educating and healing those of us that fall prey to the devastations of addiction. No one feels sorry for the junky sent to jail for their crimes, but no one would want to see their mom, sister or uncle serve time for what is clearly a mental health issue.
We all need to treat each other as we would want our immediate family to be treated, and there is no great difference between a heroin addict on the corner, and a soccer mom battling an addiction to pain pills. Both have lost control, and both suffer from the physical and mental costs of their respective addictions.
Let’s stop rewarding politicians and elected law enforcement who strive for victory with yet more promises of ever harsher enforcement.
- On one level, it just makes good economic sense. Spending a dollar to save 7 seems like a pretty solid bet, and when the recommendations towards more spending are coming from governmentally funded drug policy organizations, it makes you wonder why the obvious economic benefits are being ignored.
- On another and more compassionate level, we need to start treating addiction as the mental health problem that it is. How can we classify addiction medically as an uncontrollable compulsion, as on the other hand also imprison people for what is accepted as uncontrollable?
We need to care for the sick in our society, and since addiction can touch anyone, you never know when someone you love will face a battle with addiction, and hopefully they’ll get the help they need, rather than the incarceration they don’t.