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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Substance Abuse Policy Brief Essay

Substance Abuse Policy Brief
Executive Summary
            The impact and increased use of illegal substances over the past years have led policy makers to create strategies for the reduction of its use, one of which is the implementation of services and treatment programs for patients with substance-related disorders. This paper discusses the importance of policy guidelines that addresses the various issues surrounding substance abuse treatment services implementation, such as why tax should be used to fund such services as well as its cost-effective outcomes.
Context and Importance of the Problem

            In the United States, the economic costs of substance abuse are estimated to reach more than $270 billion per annum, including medical expenses, lost productivity, crime-related activities and many more (Sten, 2010). Only 3 million individuals are entering addiction treatment and rehabilitation services, but statistics show that roughly 23 million adolescents and adults should be entered into treatment services, leaving the 20 million adults and adolescents still in need of treatment (SAMHSA, 2009). The United States have already spent enormous billions of dollars on substance-related abuse and disorder treatment: for instance, in 2008, the Federal government allocated $28 billion for substance abuse treatment, which is equivalent to more than 1.3% of the overall costs in healthcare expenditures (Mark and colleagues, 2008). This translates to roughly 77% of expenditures funded primarily by public taxpayers in order to address alcohol and substance disorders and problems. However, policy makers wanted to know more about the positive implications of such costs and benefits in order to justify that the allocated billions of dollars for substance abuse treatment has indeed its purpose and advantage. During the past four years, the Substance Abuse Policy Research Program, along with other private-funded policy programs, has studied the cost-effectiveness and benefits of investing in substance abuse treatment services.

As lawmakers continue to debate the extent and merits of investing for substance abuse treatment and rehabilitation services, they are also faced with a constant dilemma; that is, should the taxes of the public be used as a source of funding for such programs? As well as up to what extent should taxes be used? More specifically, what returns could they generate from such a large investment?

Policy Recommendations

            Studies have already outlined the significant benefits of treating substance and alcohol-related disorders. Extensive researches show that treatment of substance-related disorders can lead to reduction in the total number of healthcare costs and provision of healthcare services. For example, one study highlighted the significant roles a health maintenance organization play to help Medicaid beneficiaries be treated for substance abuse. Such health organizations reported a 30% reduction in healthcare costs after Medicated patients had been submitted to substance abuse services. Accordingly, the greatest gains and economic benefits seem to be linked with reduced criminal activities, such as victimization, capital losses due to crimes, as well as incarceration costs. Various economic analyses show that implementation of substance abuse policies could reduce recidivism associated with arrest, imprisonment and prosecution; especially when criminal offenders are linked with using illegal substances. Following substance treatment course, for instance, a study conducted in Californian counties           noted a significant decrease in crime-related activities (Ettner et al., 2006). Such implementation of treatment services also have a benefit-to-ratio cost of 7:1, including a decrease in the utilization of emergency healthcare services and increased employment outcomes for those who have been sent to treatment services.

            Researchers suggest that alcohol and drug-related disorders should be treatment as chronic medical conditions and a good model of care must be utilized in order to improve the healthcare condition of the patients – creation of government-funded substance abuse treatment services is shown to have cost-effective and significant economic outcomes. Along with the importance of such policy guidelines, development of treatment services should conversely employ strategies that could eliminate or reduce social costs associated with the treatment of substance and alcohol disorders. For instance, one study that utilizes managed behavioral health treatment strategies have shown reduced use of overnight and inpatient services, which could likely improve social outcomes of substance abuse treatment. In addition, the use of higher insurance co-payments could also decrease inpatient and outpatient service costs, contributing to the overall rates of re-treatment.

Analysis of Policy

            Many critics and supporters of substance abuse policies are debating whether or not such mandates could have significant outcomes in the long run, and their most important concern is associated with costs of such services. We have seen in the policy recommendation above that the costs of treatment services are incomparable to the benefits that could be generated from such activities. There is indeed a need for substance abuse disorders to be addressed, especially for adolescents and adults, because if such problems would be left unsolved, economic and social costs of the problem would definitely rise. Development of intervention programs that are specifically tailored for the needs of the people is necessary and considered as the starting point for the development of concrete policy guidelines that could last for many years.  There had been various interventions implemented in the past, but the strategies mentioned above have been peer-reviewed, which means that these new approaches are direly needed for today’s generation. The development of treatment services tailored for substance abuse disorders could be generated from the tax of the public, because there is a more concrete significant outcome for the society and the economy. The above findings suggest that there would be a reduction in risks and criminal activities if such policies would be implemented.

Ettner, G. et al. (2006). “Substance Abuse in rural and small town America.” Reports on Rural America. New Hampshire: Carsey Institute.
Mark, K. et al. (2008). “Policing a Rural Plague.” National Association of Counties. California: RHRC.
SAMHSA. (2009). “Policy Brief: Trauma and Substance Abuse.” National Association of State and Alcohol and Drug Abuse. Washington, DC: NASADAD.

Sten, A. (2010). “Policy Brief: Substance Abuse Treatment Benefits and Costs.” Substance Abuse Policy Research. North Carolina: Center for Creative Leadership.

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