Although treatment has proven effective, programs are still scarce. Treatment is only available for a portion of Americans with severe alcohol or drug problems. Untreated, addiction is very costly for states in terms of crime, health and other related costs. Funding is and likely always will be a major problem in the wager against drug addiction. First of all, insurance only pays for a specific amount of time in a residential treatment facility and it is never enough time. Whether the addict has completed the program or not, he will be released according to the terms of the insurance he/she has. This is likely the biggest reason for the high rates of relapse.
Without the resources to strengthen existing services, create new research-based programs, and attract and retain qualified staff, the demand for addiction treatment will not be met. More than half of drug addicts on treatment waiting lists are less interested in entering treatment at the end of the waiting period than when they first applied. The longer addicts wait for treatment, the more likely they are to resort to criminal activity to obtain drugs.
While state policy makers are reluctant to increase budgets, other sources of funds can be tapped for prevention and treatment, particularly state alcohol and tobacco excise tax revenues. A number of states already use some portion of these revenues for prevention and treatment efforts; however, funding varies dramatically among states. The Bureau of Substance Abuse Services oversees the substance abuse prevention and treatment services. Responsibilities include: licensing programs and counselors; funding and monitoring prevention and treatment services; providing access to treatment for the indigent and uninsured; developing and implementing policies and programs; and tracking substance abuse trends in the state.
Gov. Rod Blagojevich of Illinois recently cut $55 million for state substance abuse treatment and prevention programs. That amount, with the resulting loss of federal matching money, represents half of the state’s treatment and prevention budget. Given that only 10 percent of teenagers who need drug treatment receive it, cuts like these mean that thousands more adolescents will have no place to go for treatment.
Addiction is a chronic health condition that affects as many Americans as diabetes or hypertension, and addiction treatment has the same rate of compliance and effectiveness as these other illnesses. But unlike other health conditions, the proportion of addiction treatment paid by insurance is decreasing, while dependence on government appropriations is increasing.
Cutting public funds for addiction treatment further shortchanges this serious public health problem. Parity laws, designed to expand access to mental health and substance abuse treatment, continue to be on the agenda in many states. Parity laws require health insurers to offer the same level of benefits for mental illness or chemical dependency as for other physical disorders and diseases. The most far-reaching of these measures are referred to as “full parity” because they do not allow discrepancies in the level of benefits. Twenty-three states have passed full parity legislation for mental illness; however, only five of these laws include full coverage for substance abuse treatment.