TOPICS > Health

Drug Abuse

January 11, 1996 at 12:00 AM EDT

SPOKESPERSON: You look pretty good this morning, huh.

JEFFREY KAYE: Vivian Brown is worried about the future of the women and children in her drug treatment program.

VIVIAN BROWN, Prototypes: If next year our demonstration project is cut off, this will mean some women will be out on the streets with their children, not receiving the treatment they need.

JEFFREY KAYE: Brown is executive director of Prototypes, one of many treatment centers founded in the 80’s as part of the war on drugs.

WOMAN: There ain’t no doubt in my mind if I use again I’m gonna die.

JEFFREY KAYE: In addition to therapy, Prototypes offers an array of programs for the 80 women and 50 children who live in the facility in Pomona, California, East of Los Angeles. There are lessons on parenting and job training. Prototypes receives $960,000 a year, but its future is in question since the federal agency that funds it, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, or SAMHSA, is facing deep cuts. Last year, SAMHSA received about $2.2 billion, but in August, the House of Representatives passed an appropriations bill that would cut SAMHSA’s budget by 18 percent. In September, a delegation representing federally funded treatment and prevention programs went to Washington to lobby against the cuts.

SPOKESMAN: I want you all to sit down and make yourselves at home.

JEFFREY KAYE: The object of the delegations attention was Republican Congressman John Porter. Porter offered the appropriations bill passed by the House, but since the measure still had to be considered by the Senate, it was not a done deal.

MARY ANN ANDERSON, Alcohol & Drug Treatment & Prevention Association: We wanted this opportunity to talk with you today about the magnitude of the reductions in funding for substance abuse.

ELLEN WEBBER, legal Action Center: Unless you have a very forceful and singular message that’s coming from all levels, the federal government, the state government, and the local government, which is matched by funds to fund these programs, you’re going to have an increase of drug and alcohol use.

JEFFREY KAYE: Congressman Porter listened closely but appeared unpersuaded.

REP. JOHN PORTER, (R) Illinois: We have a huge budget deficit in Washington. My assignment at Labor, Health & Human Services, and Education was to find $9 billion in reductions out of $70 billion of discretionary spending. It is a contribution to get the deficit under control and not pass our bills onto our children.

JEFFREY KAYE: But SAMHSA director Nelba Chavez says the proposed cuts will cost taxpayers more in the long run.

NELBA CHAVEZ, SAMHSA: We will see an increase in health care costs. We will see an increase in crime. We will see an increase in, in violence. We will see an increase in homelessness, and we will see an increase in the abuse of children.

JEFFREY KAYE: But Congressman Porter says under his plan SAMHSA and the states which receive block grants would continue the best programs. Most cuts would come from demonstration projects, programs like Prototypes funded to test methods of treatment or prevention. Porter says his goal is not only to save money but to require greater accountability.

REP. JOHN PORTER: Most of the demonstrations are not evaluated for their effectiveness. Some are, but most are not. Unfortunately, many of them continue on year after year as if they were existing programs, funded directly by the federal government, instead of a demonstration grant to see what works best and then shared among providers.

JEFFREY KAYE: Porter did not provide any examples of what he considers problem programs after repeated requests to his congressional staff, but he’s supported in his belief by William Bennett, who was drug czar during the Bush administration. Bennett says too much money has been spent on drug treatment that doesn’t work.

WILLIAM BENNETT, Former Drug Czar: I’m all for spending more money on effective drug treatment, and we spent a lot, increased a lot when I was there, but not for pouring money into programs where there’s no accountability, which is the current situation.

JEFFREY KAYE: Chavez says her agency has tightened up evaluation procedures and does require most demonstration programs to evaluate their results.

NELBA CHAVEZ: We have very, very stringent evaluations for many of our–for the majority of our programs, and we have been able to demonstration that treatment does work.

JEFFREY KAYE: Prototypes, for example, has received what its director calls an extensive evaluation. Vivian Brown says most women in her program six months or more are drug-free six months after leaving Prototypes.

VIVIAN BROWN: If a woman stays in this program and graduates, we have incredible success. We’re talking 75/80 percent success. But unless I follow up those women and children, I cannot tell you if a woman six months from now is still clean.

JEFFREY KAYE: Brown says the proposed cutbacks are a sign that the political will to fight the drug problem has diminished.

VIVIAN BROWN: Sometimes people don’t like people who cost this country more, and that–by that, I mean people who may be on welfare, people who are homeless, people who use drugs, particularly women. I think women have been targeted by many people in this country as bad mothers, bad people, and they should be punished. And if you believe these women should be punished, then you don’t believe they should be given treatment; you believe they belong in prison, not in treatment.

JEFFREY KAYE: While treatment advocates have pleaded their case in Washington, the alcohol industry has lobbied for the cutbacks. The industry argues federal funds have been misspent on programs like the Community Coalition for Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment.

SPOKESPERSON: (on phone) Community Coalition.

JEFFREY KAYE: The coalition tries to limit the number of liquor stores in Los Angeles. 80 percent of the coalition’s $1.3 million annual budget comes from the federal government. The group organizes residents to oppose liquor permits at city hall hearings.

WOMAN: By adding another permit to this particular community then, indeed, there would be an adverse impact on the neighborhood.

JEFFREY KAYE: The coalition maintains that with fewer liquor stores, there’d been less alcoholism and less crime. That claim is a controversial one with which the alcohol industry disagrees. Representatives of the industry also say federal funds should not be used to lobby against legitimate businesses. David Rehr represents the National Beer Wholesalers Association.

DAVID REHR, National Beer Wholesalers Association: It would be just like their reaction if I went to the federal government and said, give the beer wholesalers $10 million so we can go and lobby the city of Los Angeles to eliminate beer taxes, or to allow all sorts of increased outlets for the sale and consumption of beer. They’d be outraged! Our feeling is you just shouldn’t use taxpayers’ dollars for advocacy, period. If they have people who feel strongly about limiting liquor licenses, they should just go ahead and raise that private money from those people and pursue that neo-prohibitionist agenda.

KAREN BASS, Community Coalition: I just have to disagree with that.

JEFFREY KAYE: Karen Bass, the coalition’s executive director, says she’s using her federal grant to try to reduce alcohol-related problems, not to outlaw liquor.

KAREN BASS: What we are doing in the long run is reducing use of other public money because if we can eliminate crime clusters like that, we are reducing the expenditures of other public dollars for police, for criminal justice, for hospitals. So it depends on how you choose to look at it.

JEFFREY KAYE: Legislation to fund alcohol and drug abuse programs remains stalled in Congress. Although the appropriations bill was passed by the House of Representatives, it has yet to get to the floor of the Senate.