Funding treatment programs can save much pain, greater expenses down the road

From the Detroit Free Press:

Gov. Jennifer Granholm says the state needs to raise money for a better future while cutting spending for the present. But there’s also a way to invest in the present that could save a fortune now — and down the road.

Take a slice of the governor’s proposed tax increase on liquor, add a piece of the higher taxes that also should be imposed on beer, and pour the money into treatment programs for drug and alcohol abusers. Cut into the physical damage these folks do and the crimes they commit and you get huge savings in health care, law enforcement, courts and prisons, where 80% of the inmates have histories of drugs or alcohol abuse. Intercept chemically addled people on their inevitable downward spiral and you can make them productive taxpayers, instead of a burden. Intervene early enough with a young person headed for trouble and you save not only millions of dollars but also a life. Lives, even, when you count the innocent victims of drunken drivers.

And yet, despite a conservative estimate of $2.7 billion in annual costs from addiction, Michigan ranks last among the 50 states in the share of the state budget spent for substance abuse programs.

Michigan does have treatment programs and diversion projects and sobriety or drug-abuse courts that have impressive results, but the state doesn’t attack addiction the way it does other diseases. Why not? Well, the booze business, which now advertises more than ever, seems to think that it’s doing enough with those “drink responsibly” tags on the commercials. And the public, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, doesn’t buy drug or alcohol addiction as a disease, seeing it instead as a personal problem, a lack of willpower, even a shame.

In Detroit, that false notion will be attacked this month as part of a national effort that local treatment advocates hope will result in more public money dedicated to fight an enormously costly problem. (By the way, if setting aside some of the beer and liquor taxes won’t work, what about some of the money from unclaimed can and bottle deposits, an estimated $50 million a year now split between the state and beverage retailers?)