Although Stephanie Mencimer’s article “Strung Out” (2/11) focuses on the alleged poor leadership at D.C.’s Addiction Prevention and Recovery Administration’s detox clinic, it also raises the important issue of lack of funding for indigent addiction services. This is a national problem, not just a District one. Federal funding for indigent and low-income addiction services primarily comes from the Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Block Grant, a block grant to states administered by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

The current funding for the block grant is $1.6 billion, which may sound like a lot, but once it gets spread throughout the entire country and territories, it leaves behind a treatment gap, in which only 50 percent of those wanting addiction services can get them. According to the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, approximately 18 million Americans are chronic users of alcohol or drugs.

Treatment and prevention systems have faced increased pressure from welfare reforms that decrease system capacity while increasing the need for public treatment and prevention services. Additionally, successful criminal justice programs involving (and often mandating) treatment, including drug courts, have proliferated and are steadily increasing demand for treatment. By closing the treatment gap, we can reduce crime and violence, health-care costs, welfare dependence, child welfare and foster care costs, and the spread of contagions such as HIV.

Addiction’s nightmare stretches across the entire socioeconomic, racial, and ethnic spectrum, and there is strong scientific evidence showing its neurobiological nature. Addiction is therefore a disease, and we must petition our political leaders at all levels to increase funding for treatment services, and—to the point of Mencimer’s article—ensure that there is proper administration of these funds so that the sickest and poorest can recover their lives.

Director of National Policy

Legal Action Center