|I've been thinking of the adage, "Penny wise, pound foolish," as our Addictions and Mental Health Division (AMH) team completed its presentations to the legislative budget committee last week.
The evidence couldn't be more clear: if people receive early, adequate, community-based addiction treatment, they can be spared from descending into inevitable and predictable heartbreak for themselves and their families and society can be spared the burden of paying the cost.
For example, more than 41 percent of Oregon foster children come into the system because parents have drug and/or alcohol issues that prevent them from caring for their children or lead them to be abusive.
If we have the resources, we can help. Treatment works. Lawmakers heard that first-hand during the day of public testimony when the hearing room and two overflow areas were filled to capacity. People traveled from as far away as Pendleton and Klamath Falls to show support for AMH programs. Many testified that they would not be alive today without these state-funded services.
A great example of how treatment can help is the Intensive Treatment and Recovery Services (ITRS) initiative, a joint effort between AMH and Children, Adults and Families Division (CAF). Funded by the Legislature in 2007, its goal is simple: keep families together by giving parents the treatment they need. And it works. Over the course of 21 months, 1,440 parents whose children are in foster care received treatment and recovery services. More than 140 of their children went safely back home, and Oregon saved $280,000 by not having to continue to support these children in foster care.
The Children's Mental Health treatment program also reported great success in preventive investments. A $4 million investment by the Legislature has resulted in an 18 percent decrease in arrest rates in the 16 counties where the services are available, and fewer young people need hospital-level care.
These successes make the state's current budget reality even more poignant and frustrating. We know exactly what we need to do to help people and prevent a swath of societal ills. We know that the investments we make today will reap huge payoffs tomorrow. Every dollar spent on addictions treatment results in a return of between $4 and $7. Every dollar we don't spend results in human tragedies that could be avoided. Yet in spite of our known successes, we continue to disinvest in these important services overall.
So the penny saved today is money we will be spending later, and across Oregon too many children and families are paying the real cost.
To see AMH's entire presentation, click here.