Many are speculating that the state budget crisis will extend beyond the November election because state leaders care more about scoring political points than passing a responsible budget that invests in families and communities. I sincerely hope that my representative, C.D. Davidsmeyer, is not one of them. I hope Governor Bruce Rauner, Representative Davidsmeyer, and the rest of the General Assembly realize that prioritizing politics over governing means lasting damage to our communities. People will lose their lives, families will be destroyed, communities will be less safe, and taxpayers will pay more.
I am the executive director of the Wells Center, a substance abuse treatment facility in Jacksonville. Due to decreasing state funds and the budget impasse, I was forced to close our detoxification program which annually treats over 350 individuals from Morgan, Scott, Greene, Calhoun and Jersey counties.
Governor Rauner continues to insist that substance abuse treatment facilities like the Wells Center be denied state funding unless his non-budget agenda gets passed as well. The Governor incorrectly asserts the pain caused by the lack of a budget is short-term. In reality, our social service infrastructure is facing total destruction.
A young man denied treatment and who is sent to jail suffers a long-term cost, as do taxpayers. A young woman denied treatment and who dies from a heroin overdose pays a permanent price. The pain caused to her family and friends lasts a lifetime.
Last year when Ryan M. came to our facility in withdrawal from heroin, we were able to admit him to our detoxification program. When he completed this, he went straight into our in-patient program. After 19 days of in-patient treatment, Ryan was able to go back home and continue treatment on an out-patient basis. Because of his severe addiction to heroin, Ryan was involved in out-patient for six months, initially coming in three times a week, but towards the end of his treatment coming in only once every two weeks. Ryan completed treatment successfully and today is working, paying taxes, and is drug free. The total cost of his treatment was $7,200. According to the Office of Drug Control National Policy, every dollar spent on substance abuse saves $4 in health care costs and $7 in criminal justice costs. That means that Ryan's treatment at the Wells Center saved taxpayers almost $80,000. The personal costs of not being treated to Ryan and his family are immeasurable.
The state budget impasse is tying the hands of law enforcement and judges, forcing them to send people to jail who don’t need to be there. This year, Wells Center also had to discontinue providing substance abuse treatment to four different drug courts that were closed due to the budget impasse. Drug courts provide substance abuse treatment and local accountability instead of incarceration. Traditional use of conviction and incarceration approaches reported a recidivism rate of 45 percent while drug courts reported a recidivism rate of between five to 28 percent. The savings to the state and local communities are substantial. The Office of Drug Control National Policy estimates that drug courts yield a savings of $21,000 annually, based on the average cost per participant of $2,000 and the average cost of incarceration being $23,000.
Governor Rauner, Representative Davidsmeyer, and the rest of the General Assembly need to put non-budget issues aside and pass a budget that chooses revenue over cuts to health and safety. When lives are on the line, a budget can’t wait.
— Bruce Carter is executive director of the Wells Center, a substance abuse treatment facility in Jacksonville.