Drug-devastated Florida Prepares to Chop Treatment Funding
"An 85-year-old in a nursing home matters more than a 45-year-old with a substance problem," says a Senate supporter of the proposed treatment cuts.
Rival budgets that have been approved by the Florida House and Senate—both Republican-controlled—would do very different things to funding for substance-abuse and mental-health treatment in the Sunshine State. The first would increase funding by $32 million. And the other? It would slash-and-burn state outlays to treatment programs by $87 million—40% below current levels. The reason for the cuts is simple: Florida is facing a budget shortfall of $2 billion, and that money’s got to be made up somewhere. The Senate would much rather take that cash from programs that help drug addicts and the mentally ill than from those serving children, disabled people and grandparents. (Could it be a coincidence that one of those groups—old folks—traditionally has super-high voter turnout?) “When it comes to funding, an 85-year-old woman in a nursing home matters more to me than a 45-year-old guy with a substance-abuse problem,” says Sen. Joe Negron, who's responsible for the health care portion of the Senate’s budget. “It’s all about priorities.”
But various interest groups in Florida think the Senate’s got its priorities backwards. The legislative chair of the Florida Sheriffs Association says that without funding, drug abusers and the mentally ill will terrorize the community and fill jails. And the executive director of the Florida Alcohol and Drug Abuse Association sums up the issue in fiscal terms: “It’s cheaper to treat somebody than it is to put them in a prison. It’s cheaper to treat somebody than it is to take their children away in child welfare. It’s cheaper to treat somebody than for them to show up at the emergency room."