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Of the $468 Billion American Governments Spend on Substance Abuse, Only 2% Goes to Prevention

posted 11:00 AM EST, Thu May 28, 2009
Of the $468 Billion American Governments Spend on Substance Abuse, Only 2% Goes to Prevention © Photo Credit: Flasporty

Although every dollar spent on prevention yields an eventual savings of up to $12, US governments remain reluctant to put real funding dollars where they might make a difference.

American governments, local, state and federal, spent a whopping $467.7 billion in 2005 on substance abuse.

58% of that money paid for the higher healthcare costs of lifelong smokers, drinkers and drug users. Prosecuting and imprisoning drug offenders racked up another 13.1% and the social costs associated with problems such as homelessness, violence and family abuse used up much of the remaining balance.

Only 2% went towards funding prevention programs that might actually reduce the need for such massive spending.

Joseph Califano Jr. the Chairman of the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University, the research group that analyzed government's substance abuse spending, said, "We are spending 96 cents of every dollar we spend on substance abuse and addiction to shovel up the human wreckage." A comment that summarizes much of the research report actually entitled, "Shoveling Up" which offers a scathing commentary of current spending allocation priorities.

Califano opines that although substance abuse prevention spending has been proven to reap a dividend of as high as 12$ per dollar spent, the political costs of funding prevention instead of enforcement mandates have precluded funding to areas that would actually make a difference.

The researchers call for substance abuse prevention campaigns that could be modeled around anti-smoking campaigns of the 90's, as well as higher taxes on alcohol, to lower overall consumption, especially by teens.

The researchers also call for legislation that would increase the mandatory minimum coverage of substance abuse treatment by insurance providers. The insurance industry opposes any legislated coverage requirements, arguing that existing substance abuse treatments aren’t yet effective enough.

The researchers analyzed the budget data for all American state, federal and local governments to reach the spending figure, using 2005 as the most recent date for which all spending information was available. The full text results can be found at the website of The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University.

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