Soros Pledges $10 Million for Drug Rehab
Funds are to be used to build comprehensive public drug addiction treatment systems in large U.S. cities.
"The sad fact is that the majority of Americans who need treatment do not receive it," said George Soros, "even though drug treatment is as effective as treatment for other chronic health disorders."
Shilanthropist George Soros announced on June 7 his intention to give $10 million to U.S. cities with populations of over 250,000, to be used to help them build comprehensive public drug treatment systems. The funding will be made through Soros' Open Society Institute, which will work directly with health officials and drug treatment advocates to develop the initiative’s details. The announcement was made at the opening plenary session of a two-day national conference in Baltimore about successful drug treatment strategies.
"I want to help eliminate the enormous drug addiction treatment gap in the United States," said Soros, founder of the Open Society Institute, in a prepared statement to the press. "That gap has devastating consequences for families throughout the country. I hope this money will help cities and states to advocate effectively for sufficient public funds for drug treatment."
More than 22.5 million Americans suffer from substance abuse or dependence, according to the most recent national survey on drug use published by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSA). "Despite the large number of people who suffer from drug addiction, treatment is far from accessible in the United States at present," Soros said at the conference. "The sad fact is that the majority of Americans who need treatment do not receive it, even though drug treatment is as effective as treatment for other chronic health disorders."
Mayors and health officials from across the country attended the conference, called "Cities on the Right Track: Building Public Drug Treatment Systems." Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley, Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown, and Providence Mayor David Cicilline were among them, as were health officials from Baltimore, San Francisco, Philadelphia, New York, Detroit, and Seattle. The latter presented case studies of effective practices in dealing with drug addiction. In addition to OSI-Baltimore, sponsors of the event were the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the City of Baltimore.
Soros praised Baltimore's "comprehensive, accessible drug addiction treatment system," and said he would like to see other cities emulate it. The city's public drug treatment system, managed by the quasi-public Baltimore Substance Abuse Systems (BSAS), has been substantially funded by The Open Society Institute-Baltimore. In operation since 1997, the city has built an expanded drug treatment system by drawing on broad public support from city, state and private funders. Achievements reported at the conference included:
"The evidence in Baltimore suggests that when a city offers more access to high quality treatment, there are significant declines in drug overdose deaths, new HIV diagnoses, and property crimes," Soros said at the conference.
- In 1997, there were 5,673 publicly funded treatment slots. In 2005, there were 8,295 slots.
- Funding for the treatment system increased from $20.3 million in 1997 to $52.9 million in 2005.
- The number of people receiving drug treatment in publicly funded programs increased from 18,449 in 1997 to 28,672 in 2005.
A statewide poll commissioned by the Open Society Institute-Baltimore found that Maryland voters strongly believe alcohol and drug addiction treatment is effective, and they support providing greater access to such programs. Maryland voters also would support an increase in the alcohol tax to pay for expanded treatment—support that crosses political party lines.
A recent poll showed 67 percent of Maryland voters believe that drug treatment is a better option than prison to stop someone from using illegal drugs.
The poll found that 69 percent of Maryland voters believe alcohol and drug treatment is effective in helping people overcome addiction—a number that rises to 72 percent of those who have known someone with an addiction. Overall, 67 percent believe that drug treatment is a better option than prison to stop someone from using illegal drugs.
The poll also reveals the depth of the addiction problem, as two-thirds of Maryland voters say they personally have known someone with an alcohol or drug addiction. This experience with addiction crosses all lines, regardless of gender, race, income, region or political party.
The survey findings also reveal a treatment gap in Maryland, as many people appear not to have access to treatment when they need it. Among voters who have known someone with an addiction problem, 26 percent report that the person was unable to obtain treatment.
"The good news is that more and more people recognize that treatment does work and believe that more public dollars should support it," said Diana Morris, director of the Open Society Institute-Baltimore, in the organization's statement to the press. "As a private funder, the Open Society Institute can play a key role in helping to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the treatment system. And we are happy to play that role. But only policymakers can take the next step and direct adequate public resources to treatment. Through this kind of public-private partnership, we can ensure that the thousands of Baltimore and other Maryland residents who need treatment can, in fact, get it."
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This story was published on June 8, 2006.