Treat Substance Abuse, Mental Health by Mark Fontaine

Posted: May 3, 2011 in News and politics

Treat Substance Abuse, Mental Health


Published: Saturday, April 23, 2011 at 12:34 a.m.

Allocating state dollars into programs that yield a high return-on-investment should be the foundation of every decision made by our legislators in the coming weeks as they debate how they will balance the state budget.

That’s why the Florida Senate’s proposal to cut $33 million in adult substance-abuse funding and $174 million in adult mental health treatment funding when these programs have been proved to save the state as much as three times its initial investment is baffling.

Implementing these cuts will surely cost the state more than it will save. Untreated drug addiction will result in a rise in prison convictions, placement of the children of addicts in the child-welfare system and demand for expensive, emergency-room medical care.

If just five percent of citizens that lose treatment services enter the prison system — a conservative estimate due to the fact that 56 percent of those in treatment have criminal justice involvement — the cost to the state would be $70.5 million. The average sentence (3.2 years) for a drug offender costs taxpayers $53,000, while substance abuse treatment is a mere $2,400 annually.

If just 10 percent of parental addiction cases cause a child to be placed in the child welfare system over the next year, the cost to the state will be $26.6 million. Unfortunately, it’s likely this statistic would be higher, because 46 percent of citizens currently in treatment have dependent children, and upward of 60 percent of the youth currently in the child-welfare system can be connected to parents who suffer from substance abuse problems.

The average state hospital cost to treat an individual with mental illness is $112,000, compared to a cost of $1,551 for community mental health treatment. Numerous economists have documented that every dollar spent on addiction treatment offsets $2 to $3.65 in future medical costs. This means a loss of $33 million in addiction funding will result in $66 million or more in additional medical costs to the state.

Each of these fiscal impacts are significant by themselves, but combined they could total a staggering $163 million — and that’s just addiction services. Add mental health cuts to the mix and the fiscal impact skyrockets.

The mantra lately is that the state has to run more like a business, but cutting Florida’s substance-abuse and mental health services is obviously bad business. No business would cease investments that provide 200 percent to 300 percent returns and risk immediately doubling costs to their bottom line.

The numbers clearly show that continuing to invest in substance-abuse and mental health treatment provides the state with a better return-on-investment than cutting these services.

The Senate needs to follow the lead of the governor and the House leadership and invest in these vital services, not only because they save taxpayers money or because they serve more than 146,000 Floridians statewide, but because it’s just good business.

[ Mark Fontaine is the executive director of the Florida Alcohol and Drug Abuse Association, Tallahassee. Phone: 850-878-2196. E-mail: ]

This story appeared in print on page A17


Copyright © 2011 — All rights reserved. Restricted use only.

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