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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Eye On Boise

Study: Substance abuse treatment saves the state $$, but it’s being cut anyway

Idaho now has the data to show that its substance abuse treatment services directly save the state money - for every $1 spent on treatment costs, Idaho avoided $1.38 in criminal justice costs, according to new research from the Washington State University Public Policy Center. But the news comes as Idaho is contemplating cutting the services by 30.3 percent next year in state general funds, and 10.8 percent in total funds. "This is a place that you can show a return," said Debbie Field, director of the state Office of Drug Policy. "But there's only so many dollars to go around. ... This is a real tough one."

For the new study, the control group consisted of those on the state's waiting list, who didn't receive treatment. "Any difference is attributed to treatment," Sharon Burke of the Office of Drug Policy told JFAC this morning. "Our $23.5 million investment conservatively saved the system $32 million in other costs."

The study of the results of Idaho's interagency substance abuse efforts is aimed in part at answering questions raised by Gov. Butch Otter several years ago when he vetoed substance abuse treatment funding because he said data hadn't been submitted showing the benefit; that prompted a legislative scramble to keep the program funded and make a case that it saves the state money. This morning, Field presented the interagency substance abuse treatment budget to JFAC, along with Burke, Josh Tewalt of the state Division of Financial Management and others.  

Field told JFAC it's her fifth time in front of the committee, and the first time she appeared, "You couldn't seen the numbers and couldn't validate them." That's now changed, she said. "It's really been a pleasure to come before you ... and really analyze the numbers for this process. ... Our providers are doing a great job in helping people return back to society."

About 18 months ago, Field said, the waiting list for substance abuse services topped 2,500 people and the state decided to give up on keeping waiting lists - because it couldn't realistically promise those on the lists they'd get services. Now, she said, the state serves only those it's required by law to serve, including federal priority populations, and those referred to it by the courts. You can read my full story here at

Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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