Keep anti-drug budget in place to offset the threat

Tuesday, June 14, 2005
The Harrisburg PA Patriot-News

We have made significant progress in the fight to reduce drug use in America. Over the past three years, use of any illicit drug in the past 30 days (so-called "current" use) declined 11 percent. Over the past two decades, we have reduced drug abuse in America by an astounding 50 percent.

However, in order to remain successful, President Bush and Congress must continue to fund drug prevention and treatment programs in the fiscal 2006 federal budget. Many funds, targeted for cuts in the budget, must be restored.

Despite the recent progress, we still face a crisis. Some 19.5 million Americans aged 12 and older abused illicit drugs monthly last year, including one of every six teenagers, according to the widely respected University of Michigan National Survey on Drug Use. In 2001, the National Institute of Justice's Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring found that 63 percent of arrestees in 30 cities tested positive for one or more illegal substances. According to Health and Human Services department's Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the "treatment gap," or number of hard-core addicts who need treatment but do not receive any, is 3.9 million.

Pennsylvania has a 630,000-person treatment gap versus 70,000 who now obtain help, and outstanding treatment providers like White Deer Run can only go part of the way.

The 2006 budget proposes severe cuts in drug prevention and law-enforcement assistance to state and local governments. The $441 million state grants portion of the Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities program will be eliminated, leaving state and local governments totally responsible.

Another major program, the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas program, designed to enhance federal, state, and local law enforcement coordination and collaboration, will be slashed from $226 million to a total budget of $100 million.

The state-based Prescription Drug Monitoring Program will be cut in half to $5 million. In addition, the National Community Anti-Drug Coalition Institute, which helps state and local governments to reduce substance abuse by providing technical assistance, evaluation, research and resources, is slated for a funding reduction of $1.3 million to $750,000.

The Department of Health and Human Services Substance Abuse Block Grant, the cornerstone of the nation's substance abuse treatment system, was trimmed 3 percent in fiscal 2005. Now, the budget recommends level funding in 2006 at $1.776 billion. The number of treatment locations for all types of services -- self-help, outpatient, inpatient, mental health-related, hospital inpatient, private doctors' offices, emergency rooms and prison or jail -- is declining rather than increasing, according to the 2004 National Survey on Drug Use.

Demand-reduction programs are to be sliced $270 million, including a $14.4 million decrease in the Center for Substance Abuse Prevention and a $26 million reduction in the "Best Practices" segment of the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment's Programs of National and Regional Significance grants.

The budget also chops funding for the Office of National Drug Control Policy by $239 million, or 47 percent, and transfers money from that program to the Justice Department -- eroding the very purpose of the drug czar's coordination of anti-drug programs.

But justice will also see cuts in the Methamphetamine Initiative -- a program that combats methamphetamine production and trafficking with enhanced policing in "drug hot spots." The fiscal 2006 request of $20 million is $32.6 million less than the 2005 level.

Congress must "stay the course" and restore funds to anti-drug programs, because fighting drugs is central to our national security. The drug budget must remain a high priority if we're serious about confronting this insidious threat and protecting the safety of our youth and nation.

BARRY McCAFFREY, a retired four-star general, served as the director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy from 1996 to 2001. He is now a Bradley Distinguished National Security Professor at West Point. BARRY KARLIN is chairman and CEO of CRC Health Group, the country's largest drug and alcohol treatment provider.