The Cost of Addiction in Maine
Today’s blog is a guest post submitted by the amazing folks at B.A.R.N. who make me very proud to be a Recovery Ally:
Bangor Area Recovery Network
142 Center Street
Brewer, ME 04412
e-mail : BARN@bangorrecovery.org
On Oct 18, Governor LePage’s website announced he was hosting two Summits on Drug Crimes and Awareness following the release of a State report that indicated the total annual economic impact of substance abuse in the State of Maine in 2010 was 1.4 billion dollars. Yet, his response cited in the BDN on Oct 25 was that “the state’s drug problem is escalating and more money is needed to fund the law enforcement agents responsible for tackling the growing number of crimes fueled by addiction.” At that Summit, attended by law enforcement officials, addiction treatment professionals were not invited. This points to a sorely naïve and costly policy strategy, and history supports this conclusion.
Since 2000, the costs of substance abuse in Maine have more than doubled. Penobscot County’s share of these costs in 2010 was over $160,000,000. That is 77% greater than Bangor’s municipal and school budget combined! Keep in mind these are annual costs, we get to bear these costs each and every year. What is so terribly wrong with this picture?
Like any commodity, alcohol and drugs are subject to principles of supply and demand. Increased enforcement is a “supply reduction” strategy designed to reduce the amount of alcohol and drugs available. Availability and access of alcohol and drugs has increased to the point where prescription drug addiction is epidemic, and marijuana, itself another substance that can cause dependency, is on the verge of legalization. Designer drugs are developed faster than they can write to outlaw them. So far, not so good on supply reduction.
What about the other side of supply and demand – how much is invested in “demand reduction? In that same State report, dollars invested in substance abuse prevention, treatment, and recovery is just 3.3% of total costs. The State Office for Substance Abuse cites studies that show for every $1 invested in treatment, there is $7 cost offsets and avoidance in other services. This study is a perfect example of a skewed under-funded “demand reduction” strategy that favors law enforcement and punishment over treatment and recovery.
If we are faced with spending tax-payer dollars on substance abuse policies, doesn’t it make more sense to embrace a system that shows proven cost reduction? Treatment and recovery is incredibly fruitful. Studies of the recovery community show emergency room use and criminal justice activity decreases ten-fold in recovery, while employment, education, family, and civic involvement increase dramatically. Demand reduction works and pays excellent dividends.
Addiction is a complex medical, psychological, spiritual, and social problem. Despite the facts that science and research have proven addiction is a disease ever since the American Medical Association declared so in 1955, the shame and stigma of addiction and recovery continues. In 2014, recent policy changes are going to deny coverage for substance abuse treatment to over 3,800 individuals who are currently receiving substance abuse treatment. LePage’s renewed commitment to “get tough on drug crimes” is yet another example of a system that is fundamentally flawed. If an addict is denied access to treatment and then commits a crime, our system immediately commits tens of thousands of dollars in criminal justice services that fail to achieve any lasting benefit. Yet 80% of the prison population is there because of drug-related offenses. Prison used to be where we put people we were afraid of; now they are filled with people we are mad at.
Treatment is one step, but recovery happens in the community. The purpose of the Bangor Area Recovery Network is to reduce the shame and stigma associated with addiction and recovery, and to celebrate recovery and all that it brings. BARN makes recovery visible in our community, and BARN believes that supporting recovery is a community responsibility. There is ample evidence that we all have a stake in doing the same.
The Bangor Area Recovery Network’s community recovery center is located at 142 Center Street in Brewer. It provides a clean and safe environment for the recovery community and is open 7 days per week from 10am to 8pm. For more information, call the BARN at (207) 561-9444 or visit their web site at www.bangorrecovery.org.
Bruce Campbell, Board Member
Bangor Area Recovery Network