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The Fund for a Healthy Maine works

Posted March 09, 2011, at 9:52 p.m.
Last modified March 11, 2011, at 4:20 p.m.

Many people tell me “I don’t want to pay for treatment for those alcoholics and addicts. That is not my problem.” When asked about their concerns, I am told “they did this to themselves” or “I am not responsible for their bad behavior.”

Have you ever had a drink of alcohol? Or used any drug “recreationally”? Then you have at least one risk factor. Anyone who has used any of these substances even in a way society considers safe is at risk. You can’t get addicted if you don’t use alcohol or drugs.

I can assure you that I don’t know anyone who set out to get addicted to alcohol or drugs. They developed this condition because they tried these substances and they had other risk factors — genetic, environmental or both. Many were prescribed pain medication by their doctors. They did not aspire to become ill.

But for those who complain about having to pay for addiction treatment, here’s the real story. We are already paying for addiction and we pay more every year. As Maine residents, we paid $1.18 billion for alcohol and drug problems in our state this past year, at the tune of $907 for every resident. This has risen since 2007 when we paid for alcohol and drug problems in these ways: crime $214 million; deaths $204 million; medical care $169 million; illness $156 million; and $112 million for other related services.

Based on Maine data and national trends, it is estimated the cost of addiction will rise to $1.5 billion dollars in Maine in less than five years. Yet, only 2 percent of Maine budget pays for treatment. Here’s the problem with that strategy — people don’t get better when we pay for the symptoms of active addiction. People get better when we offer treatment and recovery support, enabling millions in our country to spend clean and sober lifetimes as productive members of their communities.

Look around you — is Maine’s addiction problem getting any better using this funding strategy? Every day we read about addiction problems in our newspapers, we hear it in the media. More of us are touched by its devastation in some way.

I can tell you that the way we are paying is not lessening the problem: Maine Office of Substance Abuse reports that most individuals who sought treatment in 2010 listed opioids as their primary problem — more frequently prescription medications. Maine is No. 1 in our country when it comes to opiate addiction, and 2010 was the first year when alcohol was not the primary factor in treatment admissions. Maine OSA also reports that less than 17 percent of the people who need treatment can get treatment in our state right now. These aren’t good numbers.

Our state leaders are telling us they will save us money by slashing funding for treatment and prevention services. That looks like a great deal on the front end, but will cost us far more in reality.

Gov. Paul LePage’s proposed budget plans to reallocate $4.4 million of the Fund for Healthy Maine dollars that pay for addiction treatment and prevention services in our state. The Fund for Healthy Maine comes from the tobacco settlement and should be used to address addiction problems.

If this proposed budget gets approved, Maine Office of Substance Abuse will lose this money plus the match in federal block grant dollars resulting in a $6 million reduction. This will result in significant reductions in treatment and prevention services.

As a Maine taxpayer, you will pay far more for this decision in the end. Don’t be fooled by what looks like a cost-saving measure. Ask your legislators not to cut substance abuse services paid for by The Fund for Healthy Maine.

Deb Dettor is the coordinator of the Maine Alliance for Addiction Recovery.

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