- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 31, 2001

Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia are spending millions of dollars each year on treatment programs for drug, alcohol and tobacco abuse, a new study shows, but the programs seem to have little or no impact on the problems.

Trends in the District show that the use of alcohol, marijuana, heroin and tobacco is increasing, while cocaine use is decreasing. In the rest of the nation, too, illegal drug use has risen steadily since 1992.

According to a report from Columbia University's National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, the District spent as much as 15.6 percent of its annual budget in 1998 on substance-abuse programs, making it one of the country's top spenders.

Of the city's 572,062 residents, 60,000 are identified as substance abusers.

The report says the city spent as much as $812 per person on substance abuse in 1998 higher per-capita spending than any state. But less than 1 percent of this money was channeled into prevention efforts, while 96 percent went toward shouldering the effects of abuse on public programs such as health and education, it says.

No health official in the District was available for comment yesterday, but a spokeswoman said the high spending per capita reflected the fact that substance-abuse rates for the District are higher than for the rest of the country in every age group except 12- to 17-year-olds.

The CASA report, "Shoveling Up: The Impact of Substance Abuse on State Budgets," a 183-page, three-year study of state spending on substance abuse, says that states, on average, spent 13.1 percent of their budgets on substance-abuse treatment in 1998.

"That is more than they spend on the whole burden of higher education, or on Medicaid," said Susan Foster, director of policy research analysis at CASA. She added that the CASA estimate was "conservative."

In all states, much of the money was spent on "shoveling up the wreckage of substance abuse," with a small percentage going toward preventing and treating the problem, she said.

Virginia spent 11.7 percent of its budget, or almost $1.8 billion, on substance abuse, while Maryland spent 10.5 percent, or almost $1.3 billion, according to the report. Both states spent less than 1 percent of their total substance-abuse money on prevention, the report said.

Virginia also spent 1 percent of its substance-abuse money on treatment even less than the District and Maryland, which spent 4 percent and 3 percent respectively.

The states said they are working to reduce the impact of drug and alcohol use on their populations by beefing up prevention programs. Maryland is developing programs that, among other things, provide transitional housing for substance abusers coming out of treatment programs to prevent recidivism.

Virginia, which has a $9 million grant from the Center for Substance Abuse Prevention, is developing prevention programs that include training 400 professionals from around the state at the state substance-abuse prevention office and James Madison University.

Both Maryland and Virginia officials said they thought the statistics cited by CASA on prevention and treatment spending were not accurate. While Virginia did not have any details of substance-abuse spending, Maryland gave $93 million as its spending on drug abuse for fiscal 2001.

"We recognize that for every dollar we spend on substance-abuse prevention, we save $4 to $5 on treatment costs," said Ben Smith, director of the Governor's Office for Substance Abuse Prevention in Virginia.

Heroin use presents the biggest challenge and is on an increase, health officials said. In the District, heroin abusers have accounted for 10 percent of all substance abusers, a spokeswoman said.

Health officials also cited increases in the use of newer drugs like Ecstasy.

In Maryland, heroin use has increased steadily over the past few years, with more and more heroin-addicted people coming into the state's publicly funded programs, said Steve Goldklang, assistant director of the Alcohol and Drug Administration in Maryland.

"Heroin is cheap its prices are going down and it is plentifully available," he said. "We are also seeing a number of poly-addicted people people addicted to more than one substance," Mr. Goldklang said.

The report said that substance abuse imposed "heavy burdens" in cancer, heart disease and chronic and debilitating respiratory ailments. States also fund and operate child-welfare systems where at least 70 percent of the cases of abuse and neglect stem from alcohol- and drug-abusing parents, the report states.

In the District, the heaviest spending of $266 million was on the justice system, including adult corrections and juvenile justice, followed by $59 million on health and $52 million on education, according to the report.

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