Bush Drug Treatment, Prevention, and Recovery Budget Cuts Raise Chorus of Criticism
The Bush administration's proposed Fiscal Year 2009 spending for drug treatment, prevention, and recovery includes significant funding cuts for some programs, and that has critics ranging from former federal drug warriors to the treatment and recovery community crying foul. While economic pressures may necessitate a lean budget, say the critics, cutting drug treatment, prevention, and recovery is not the way to do it.
Bush administration drug strategy report and budget
- Funding for the Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Block Grant program would see a small increase to $1.779 billion, but that increase would be earmarked for the most effective existing grant recipients.
- The Center for Substance Abuse Treatment (CSAT) would receive $336.7 million, a decrease of $63 million from FY 2008, and a number of programs would be zeroed out, including the Recovery Community Support Program. Other losers include the Treatment Systems for the Homeless program (cut from $42.5 million to $32.6 million) and the Opioid Treatment Program/Regulatory Activities (cut from $8.9 million to $6 million). But funding for the Access to Recovery grant program would remain unchanged at $99.7 million, and drug court funding would increase from $15 million to $37 million.
- The Center for Substance Abuse Prevention (CSAP) would receive $158 million, a decrease of $36 million from FY 2008.
- Funding for the Center for Mental Health Services would be cut by $126 million.
- The Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities (SDFSC) State Grants program, which supports community-based prevention programming through the Department of Education, would receive $100 million, a decrease of $194.8 million.
- The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) would receive $1.002 billion, a nearly $1 million increase over FY 2008.
- The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) would receive $436.68 million, a $0.4 million increase over last year's funding.
"We're very concerned about these cuts and looking forward to working with Congress to restore the funding," said Pat Taylor, executive director of Faces and Voices of Recovery, a national organization advocating for those affected by substance abuse problems. "We're especially concerned about the elimination of the Recovery Community Services Program -- it's the only program that funds community recovery services," she said.
Even though the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) report that accompanied the Bush budget claimed such programs are ineffective, thus justifying their being cut, Taylor said that report was wrong. "We know from the government's own data that these programs are highly effective at a relatively low cost," she said. "Funding has gone to organizations that have leveraged tens of thousands of volunteer hours in communities around the country."
"There's not a lot of money for treatment and prevention as it is," said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. "Bush is also cutting law enforcement," Piper said, referring to proposed cuts in the Byrne Justice Action Grants program, "but we know which one Congress is more likely to restore."
"I've argued for years that it's a gross distortion of resources to deny as much funding as necessary for drug treatment, prevention, and education. That is how we stop the link between drugs and crime," said Robert Weiner, who as public affairs director under drug czar Gen. Barry McCaffrey frequently earned reformers' ire (on other issues). Weiner added that two-thirds of arrestees test positive for illegal drugs. "If we prevent it on the front side before forcing them into prison, we save literally billions of dollars and make productive citizens out of these people. The federal drug budget needs to be refigured to change its priorities," he said.
Weiner also had harsh words for the current drug czar, John Walters, for failing to protect his bureaucratic fiefdom. Under Walters, the drug budget under the control of ONDCP has declined from $19 billion to $13 billion.
"That's outrageous," Weiner complained. "Walters has his head in the sand and has been ceding authority. The point of his office was to create an overseer to ride herd on drug policy, but instead, Walters has just been a lackey to this politics of fear and terror and homeland security and has given away the store. It's not just individual programs, but an overall ceding of authority, and that's a shame."
Weiner isn't the only former federal drug warrior taking pot-shots at the Bush administration's drug policy spending priorities. John Carnevale, who served under four different drug czars and helped set federal drug budgets and strategies, ripped into the Bush administration earlier this month with a policy brief charging that it had consistently emphasized the least effective aspects of drug control policy.
According to Carnevale, supply reduction (law enforcement, interdiction, eradication) spending has grown 57% during the Bush years, while demand reduction (treatment, prevention, recovery) spending has increased by only 3%. The ratio between supply reduction and demand reduction spending is about 2:1, near where it has been historically despite repeated claims by federal drug fighters that they are shifting to a more balanced approach.
As Carnevale notes, "Research suggests that treatment and prevention programs are very effective in reducing drug demand, saving lives, and lessening health and crime consequences. It has demonstrated that attacking drugs at their source by focusing on eradication is expensive and not very effective. It has demonstrated that interdiction has little effect on drug traffickers' ability to bring drugs into the United States and on to our street corners where they are sold."
Perversely, however, interdiction funding increased the most during the Bush years, doubling from $1.9 billion in 2002 to $3.8 billion in 2009, while source country funding increased by 50%, law enforcement by 31%, and treatment by only 22%. Spending for drug prevention, on the other hand, actually declined by 25%.
"If research were our guide," wrote Carnevale, "then one would expect the opposite ordering of increases in budgetary resources for drug control. The failure to incorporate research into the budgetary process is a lost opportunity to produce results. The only positive news in this decade is the reduction in youth drug use, a trend which started in the previous decade. Today's discussion of drug policy performance overlooks the fact that adult drug use and rates of addiction remain unchanged in this decade."
The chorus of critics is not just complaining. Led by the treatment and recovery community, moves are afoot in Congress to seek a better mix when it comes to drug policy funding. Look for battles to come in committee hearing rooms and floor votes as advocates seek to restore funding to useful and effective programs.
"These cuts are very shortsighted and I don't think they will stand," said Taylor. "We are working with many allied organizations to support a different budget proposal that we will be distributing on Capitol Hill next week. There is a lot of interest there in moving forward instead of back."