Improving Oregon’s alcohol & drug strategy

The Oregon State Alcohol and Drug Policy Commission has produced a strategic plan in the form of a report to outgoing Governor Ted Kulongoski.

It’s short on details and how to pay for it – but otherwise the report is terrific. Affirming the strategy in this report, and shifting funds to meet this blatant need should be the top priority for this – and future – administrations.

The statistics on substance use within Oregon demonstrate the depth of the problem:

  • Almost 70 percent of inmates in state prisons need treatment for drug and alcohol problems.
  • The number of Oregon 8th graders who have had an alcoholic drink in the past 30 days is nearly twice the national average.
  • Healthcare expenditures associated with alcohol and drug abuse were $813 million in 2006.
  • There were 229 overdose deaths in Oregon in 2008.
  • 56 percent of parents whose children are abused and neglected have issues with drug and alcohol addiction.
  • In 2008, 33 percent of traffic fatalities involved alcohol-impaired drivers. The impact of drug-impaired driving is unknown.
  • Alcohol abuse costs Oregon’s economy $3.2 billion per year, more than eight times the amount of tax revenue from alcohol sales.

Substance abuse is also a significant cost-driver within the state budget. Large portions of the budgets of major state agencies are driven by the costs of substance abuse, including those of the Department of Justice, Oregon State Police, Department of Human Services, Department of Corrections, Oregon Youth Authority, Oregon Judicial Department, Department of Education and the Department of Transportation.

Oregon needs an intelligent, workable long-term strategy to address this problem. Continued aggressive law enforcement is vital, as are prevention and recovery services. Investing in prevention and recovery will do three very important things for the state.

First, it will save money. By reducing the number of substance abuse problems, we reduce health care costs This includes fewer long-term drug and alcohol-related medical problems and fewer emergency room visits. We will also reduce the costs of the child welfare and criminal justice systems, because fewer children will be abused and fewer crimes committed. One Oregon study found that, for every dollar invested in prevention and recovery services, the state saved $5.60 in other areas.

Second, prevention and treatment reduce crime and do so in a highly cost-effective manner.  One well-regarded study by the Rand Corporation found that treatment is by far the most efficient way to control the illegal drug trade. Prevention and treatment are seven times more cost-effective than street enforcement operations; ten times more effective than border interdiction; and twenty-three times more cost-effective than source control in countries like Colombia. While prevention and treatment are not an adequate substitute for a strong law enforcement presence in our communities, it is a vital supplement.

Finally, prevention and treatment programs help decrease human suffering. Properly implemented, they reduce child abuse and neglect, prevent innocent citizens from becoming victims and help our business and residential communities thrive.

For all these reasons, Oregon needs first-class prevention and treatment systems. Public policy has failed to recognize and respond to the connections between public health, criminal justice and the economy. Alcohol and drug abuse are not given sufficient weight or prominence in the formulation of health, welfare and social policy. They are treated as ancillary issues when in fact they are primary health care and social concerns. As a result, policy has suffered.

In our review of Oregon’s prevention and treatment programs, we have found:

  • Although prevention and recovery are very cost-effective, Oregon’s programs have been consistently under-funded, leaving tens of thousands of Oregonians without assistance.
  • Oregon does not have a consistent, rational data-collection and accountability system to track funding and insure that it is invested wisely.
  • Many prevention programs in the state do not follow best practices established through scientifically sound randomized testing.
  • The state lacks a clear long-term strategy for prevention and treatment backed by a coordinated budgeting process.

READ – Improving Oregon’s alcohol & drug prevention and recovery strategy

READ – Societal Outcomes And Cost Savings Of Drug And Alcohol Treatment In The State Of Oregon, 1996