After Andre Agassi’s recent confessions in a tell-tale book about his use of crystal meth during his playing days, Richard Gasquet, who recently made it to the Wimbledon semifinals has just tested positive for cocaine.
He says he was contaminated with the drug when he kissed a woman who was using it. Right. Unless the woman was covered in an inch thick layer of coke, or unless Gasquet drank about a pint of her heavily intoxicated saliva, we all know that’s a lie. I’m pretty sure the committee now deliberating will come to the same conclusion.
Drug use in our society
The bottom line is that drugs are everywhere, including our star athletes, night-club hopping starlets, and big-time business executives. And in case you haven’t figured this out, they’re not going away. The best we can do is to keep researching the problem so that we can:
- Educate the public (educational and dissemination research).
- Identify risky users earlier (assessment and genetics research).
- Figure out the most effective ways to get them into treatment (intervention research).
- Discover the best methods to treat them (clinical and pharmacological research).
- Repeat the cycle.
That’s it! That’s all we’ve got. Recreational drug use will most likely continue forever, and I for one think that’s the wrong problem for us to be focusing on.
Interdiction – Our current solution to drug use
Limiting the drug supply, which is a big part of how our government currently deals with the problem, drives up the price of street drugs. This in turn reduces their purity (dealers have to make money) and gets in the way of recreational drug use. So far so good. But guess what?
Addicts don’t care about the cost of drugs.
Trust me, I used to sell them and use. I used to know a lot of other people who did too. Addicts are not making rational decisions based on economic realities. They’ll sell their stuff, lie cheat and steal their way to more drugs. Their brains are no longer depending on rational thinking when it comes to their drug use. That’s pretty much the definition of addiction.
Decriminalization – Our next step
I’m going to write a post soon about the notion of decriminalization. Decriminalization is different from legalization. Making drugs legal is like sanctioning their use – making citizens think the drugs are okay. For the most part, they’re not. But decriminalization would take addicts out of our prisons and give them the treatment they need. I think it’s time we faced the music and dealt with drug use problems at their core, with the people most often negatively affected by them.
A recent paper put out by an initiative called Closing the Addiction Treatment Gap (CATG) talks about some of the cost savings benefits that go along with alcohol and drug abuse treatment. The numbers refer to current treatment methods, success rates, etc., so the savings should only go up as we become more successful and introduce longer, more chronic treatment methods (as I discussed here).
- 2.3 Million hospital stays in 2004 we directly related to substance disorders.
- Total medical costs were reduced 26 percent among patients that received addiction treatment.
- Brief counseling alone allowed for a reduction of 20 percent in emergency department visits and 37 percent in days of hospitalization among a group of high-risk alcoholics.
- Addiction contributes directly to many off our most pressing health issues: heart disease,
cancer and stroke.
- In one study, outpatient addiction treatment reduced total medical costs by 26%, inpatient health-care costs by 35%, and emergency room by 36% !!!
You can find the rest of the report on CATG’s website, but I think you’ll agree that alcohol and drug abuse treatment needs to be part of the discussion in our ongoing health-care debate. We can save billions of dollars and millions of life every year by making appropriate, effective, addiction treatment part of the reality of ongoing health care in America.
It’s the responsible thing to do. It’s the right thing to do.
If you’re not from CA, you may not know about proposition 36.
It’s a law, passed by voters in 2000, that mandates treatment, not incarceration, for people arrested on drug charges. Defendants can chose whether to accept it or not if they’re eligible, and before I get angry responses from my “red-state” readers, only non-violent, possession only arrests are eligible for Prop 36 participation (I, for instance, was NOT eligible).
Well, like so much else, Prop 36 is on Arnold Schwarzenegger’s proverbial chopping block. California is in a state of fiscal emergency, and addiction treatment is one of the first things to seem like an unnecessary public welfare program.
But, if funding for Prop 36 disappears, many California counties are going to be left in trouble.
This is why:
- Over 40,000 people are referred for assessment under proposition 36 every year. If funding disappears, they will all, by law, still have the right to request treatment, there will just be no funding for it.
- Of the total people referred, more than 80% get assessed for treatment, and more than 80% of those actually get into treatment. That’s 31,772 people that got treatment for their addiction instead of sitting in a jail cell in 2007.
- With the average cost of incarceration exceeding $30,000 removing funding for the program will either break CA law or break the banks of the counties and the state.
I understand the need to be fiscally responsible in a crisis like the one we’re facing, but as it stands, Prop 36 is the law, and treatment helps more people stay out of jail than incarceration.
If funding stops, the state is going to shoot itself in the foot, having to pay for these people through another program, taking the money away from services that were deemed important enough to stay on the books.