Put drug treatment into national conversation

When Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel was President Clinton's crime adviser, he was so enthusiastic about Four-Star General/Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey's proposal to increase drug treatment by a billion dollars that he did his famous stand-on-his-desk in his cubicle in the West Wing.

Emanuel exclaimed, "Treatment keeps the crime off the streets!"

Emanuel made the point that treatment isn't just a liberal good-for-people action, but a cost-effective counter to crime. During the GOP Republican debate on Sept. 16, while butting heads over government drug laws, Sen. Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican, stated, "I'd like to see more rehabilitation, and less incarceration. I'm a big fan of the drug courts, which try to direct you back toward work and less time in jail."

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, after joking that his "mother would not be happy" that he now is admitting to marijuana use "40 years ago," added: "We're the state that has the most drug courts across every circuit. Drug courts give people a second chance."

Carly Fiorina said, "My husband Frank and I buried a child to drug addiction. We must invest more in the treatment of drugs. We have the highest incarceration rates in the world. Two-thirds of the people in our prisons are there for nonviolent offenses, mostly drug related."

From Rand Paul to Hillary Clinton, all sides now have proposals to improve substance abuse treatment. Paul, together with Rep. Ed Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, aims to increase the yearly number of patients that providers can help.

Clinton would add $10 billion to federal-state spending on addiction, help first responders provide antidotes to opiate overdoses, and steer low-level offenders away from incarceration to rehabilitation.

Here's the shocker, rarely reported: 23 million addicts "need but do not receive treatment," according to the federal Department of Health and Human Services.

According to the most recent data (through 2013) on the HHS Substance Abuse Administration website, 8.73 percent of people in Illinois ages 12 and up, or almost one million people (934,000) are using illicit drugs at least monthly.

In the Joliet-Naperville-Chicago Metropolitan Statistical Area, according to HHS, "an annual average of 1.1 million persons aged 12 or older used any illicit drug in the past year." That is a lot of people.

The report lists "Illicit drugs" as "marijuana/hashish, cocaine (including crack), heroin, hallucinogens, inhalants, or prescription-type psychotherapeutics used nonmedically."

A Roosevelt University report shows that Illinois substance abuse treatment funding has been cut by almost 30 percent over five years.

Chicago itself has already exceeded the somber benchmark of 1,000 people shot this year. According to the 2013 Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring Program report by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, 83 percent of Chicago male arrestees tested positive for illegal drug use.

According to the Illinois Alcohol and Drug Dependence Association (IADDA), Gov. Bruce Rauner is aiming to cut $27.6 million dollars from the current $127 million budget for the Illinois Department of Human Services Division of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse for FY 2016. This 22 percent budget cut, out of the current 47,000 addicts receiving treatment "would mean 7,473 individuals would lose access" according to IADDA.

Keep in mind that the Illinois-based Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities program (TASC) costs $4,425 yearly per person, while prison costs taxpayers $25,000-plus per person.

There were 8,500 heroin overdose deaths nationally last year, an extraordinary 5,000 more than 2001. With inaction and budget cuts, the rise in drug-related deaths will continue.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that heroin ranks first in substances for entering publicly funded drug treatment in the Chicago area.

The Illinois Division of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse's website shows treatment reduces drug use by 40 to 60 percent. The agency states that each dollar spent in treatment equals $4 to $7 in savings on crime and criminal justice costs alone.

Addicts can get well and rejoin the taxpaying workforce if they have the means. With the new attention from presidential campaigns and debates, and with the sad reality of increased drug-related murders, both Congress and Illinois have a rare opportunity to take important action on a bipartisan, conservative-liberal issue and reverse public perceptions of gridlock.

Robert Weiner is the former spokesman for the White House National Drug Policy Office, the U.S. House Government Operations Committee, and the House Narcotics Committee. Daniel Sordello is Policy Analyst at Robert Weiner Associates and Solutions for Change.

Daniel Sordello
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