Idaho has made a big change in how it approaches substance abuse treatment, moving from a fragmented system that had various agencies doing their own thing with no particular coordination, to one in which they're forced to work in concert.
"You can just see this new feeling out there of cooperation that I've not seen before," said Debbie Field, the new head of Gov. Butch Otter's Office on Drug Policy, a position some are still calling Idaho's "drug czar." Field, a former longtime legislator and chairwoman of the House Judiciary Committee, overflows with enthusiasm for her new task and says she's hearing the same from state employees, agency directors, treatment providers and others.
"Somebody that's been in this field for 20 years … said, 'I'm about ready to retire and I wish I was just starting,' because they're feeling so good about, finally, this new direction," Field said. She added, "Everybody can expect that they all need to work together. … To me, that's the best thing we're doing."
It's a huge task. A 2005 state performance audit found that Idaho's substance abuse intervention and treatment efforts were so fragmented that no one knew how much was being spent, how many people were being served, or whether it was working. There were high rates of failure and dropouts among those who received treatment, and little oversight of providers' qualifications.
Last week, an update to that audit found substantial progress, including the passage of a slew of major legislation in this year's legislative session. Among the changes was the bill creating Field's office, which passed both houses unanimously. "This has probably been one of the best projects I've ever been involved in in my life," said Rep. Jim Clark, R-Hayden Lake, current chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. "It's never been done before – it's a brand-new idea." Read my full story here in the Sunday Spokesman-Review.