Fighting drugs a difficult battle for Kenai Peninsula, elsewhere

Posted: Monday, March 06, 2006

As researchers continue gathering data and applying techniques that reveal how the brain works and how addictions occur, the more the world of substance-abuse treatment changes, said Henry Novak, for a decade the executive director of the Cook Inlet Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse.

“We realize the impacts of that abuse affect our economy, our society, police, domestic violence — it all costs,” Novak said.

Funding effective treatment and prevention programs faces two essential difficulties. They are costly, for one, and quantifying success is hard.

“How do you prove what you are doing works?” he asked.

People who are successfully treated don’t reappear in courts or in treatment programs and aren’t countable like those still undergoing care. Add to that the great focus on “co-occurring disorders,” as when someone is abusing alcohol and also has a mental disorder that may be driving them to drink. Novak said CICADA has been trying to deal with that “holistic approach” without adequate funding from the state or other sources.

“That has put a strain on treatment agencies,” he said.

There is no doubt, he said, that drug and alcohol abuse has an impact on the Kenai Peninsula and across the state.

The “Economic Costs of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse In Alaska” report update released Tuesday estimates the state’s economy lost about $367 million in lost productivity in 2003.

Those loses were attributed to such things as premature death, reduced worker efficiency, jail time for criminal offenses and inpatient treatment or hospitalization related to drug and alcohol abuse.

Alcohol and drugs are major causes of traffic accidents in Alaska, costing the economy another $35 million in legal fees, property damage, injuries, fatalities and workplace expenses, the report said.

About 17,400 arrests made in 2003 were attributed to alcohol and drug abuse, and during the same period 15,800 state residents fell victim to abuse-related crimes, costing $154 million in law enforcement, corrections, legal costs and property damage. About $59 million more was spent in adult and child protective services.

Hospital care for various alcohol and drug abuse-related ailments cost an estimated $178 million in 2003, the report said.

Some drug- and alcohol-dependent people are eligible for public assistance because they are low-income, cannot hold a job or are disabled by substance abuse. State administrative costs associated with programs for those residents hit an estimated $4.1 million that year.

Efforts to respond have been hampered by legislative funding decisions, said Angela Salerno, advocacy coordinator for the Governor’s Advisory Board on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse.

A 2002 law from a bill sponsored by then Rep. Lisa Murkowski increased the per-drink tax by 10 cents and funneled half of all alcohol taxes into a new Alcohol and Other Drug Treatment and Prevention Fund. The fund was meant to expand various treatment programs and procedures. According to Salerno, instead of expanding funding to programs beyond what was already being spent by lawmakers, the fund became the source of money to supplant general fund and mental health dollars. Indeed, contributions from those sources dropped $12 million in 2004.

“Supplantation of general funds with ADTP funds has resulted in extremely slow growth in the state’s total contribution to substance abuse treatment and prevention,” Salerno said in a recent report. Letting ADTP funds supplement general fund spending, she added, would make about $19 million more available for treatment programs this year.

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