Tuesday, April 5, 2011

A student urges their State Rep to support House Bill 106

Here is an excerpted portion of a letter drafted by a student for sending to their representative in the Illinois General Assembly.  I've included some of my comments after the letter.

I am here to tell to you about the House Bill 0106. This bill is trying to save programs that help substance abusers who are not able to get Medicaid. I believe that it is a good idea to pass this bill. If you end up cutting the funding for these programs, you will end up sending these substance abusers back to homes that are not safe places for them to get clean. Without the programs, they do not have a place that is acceptable for them to get the help they need, and they will begin to turn back to their old ways and use, which is putting others in harm’s way. This could eventually send these users into our neighborhoods, to break into our houses, and steal our things to get what they need. As I see it, by cutting these programs not only are we influencing them to continuing doing the things they are doing by saying they are not important enough to keep their programs, but this also is allowing them to have more opportunities to raise the crime until they get the things they need.

Not only will drastically cutting drug treatment programs increase the number of crimes committed, it will also increase the amount of money we pay out, because as stated in HB-0106, it only takes about $4,500 dollars to put a person through treatment, but it takes almost $22,000 dollars to put the same person in jail. So, just think how much that number is going to sky-rocket if we drop the programs that are trying to keep the people healthy and trying to prevent the crimes from occurring. 

Not only is this causing problems for the people with substance abuse problems, but it also creates a problem for the people who have a job in this field to help the people with substance abuse problems. In cutting these programs, it further increases the hardship our state is having in finding jobs for everyone. This cut puts over 5,000 people out of jobs. This is something that is going to further increase the problem with people receiving unemployment. So, in cutting these substance abuse programs our state is not only hurting the people we are suppose to help, but we are also hurting the community that we live in. The more programs we cut the more jobs we lose, and the more jobs we lose, the more people begin to depend on unemployment, which then presents us with the worsening problem of how do we begin to help both the newly unemployed human services worker and the people who formerly received human services. House Bill 106 restores the funding to drug treatment programs, and will help us avoid these problems.  I want you to support it.

The comparison of costs for treatment versus costs for incarceration is an important point to make. There is a counter argument. Say it costs $5,000 per year to treat persons with substance abuse and $25,000 per year to incarcerate them. If you cut services to 100 persons (and save $500,000), will 20 of those persons go on to commit crimes, get caught, and serve jail time? If more than 20 do so, you’ve got a good economic case. If in fact only 10 are likely to commit such crimes, then the cost argument may not be accurate, at least if you limit it to the cost of jail versus the cost of treatment. What percentage of persons with a substance abuse problem who are in treatment would commit a crime and receive a prison sentence for it if they ceased receiving their addiction services? I don’t know. I suspect there are neither significant long-term savings or cost increases from cutting treatment services, in terms of prison costs versus treatment costs. But I think there are huge economic gains from treatment services if we look beyond the mere criminal justice savings. I think the real economic argument that justifies making no cuts whatsoever to drug and alcohol addiction treatment is that treatment works well enough in a high enough percentage of cases to justify itself in terms of years of productive life saved and reductions in costs associated with addictions.

Let’s say that half of the people receiving substance abuse treatment make long-term recoveries, and without treatment only about 20% would do so. That means about 30% of those receiving treatment receive a huge benefit in terms of quality of life. But also, this means that 30% will go on to live and work as productive people, earning incomes, paying taxes, taking adequate care of their children, creating demand for goods and services they otherwise wouldn’t. That is probably a savings of millions of dollars in terms of the gain to society for each person in that 30% who get a long-term benefit. There would be cost reductions in unemployment benefits and many other forms of welfare expense. There would be reductions in the costs of child welfare. There would be increases in tax revenue.

And even without the economic argument, there is a moral argument, and you can certainly make a moral argument when you are communicating with a politician. Even if drug and alcohol treatment was expensive and inefficient, we still might want to maintain spending on it because we as a society want to try to salvage the lives of persons who have become addicted.

There is also this interesting point about increased costs to the state of any spending cuts that result in persons losing their livelihood. Unfortunately, that argument will be made no matter where the cuts to the state budget occur. If the cuts aren’t made in human services, they will be made in schools, in law enforcement, in fire protection, in parks districts, in libraries, in hospitals, and in construction and maintenance labor forces.

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