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December 20, 2005

Miller: Fund Drug Treatment to Cut Crime and Help Families

DES MOINES.   Attorney General Tom Miller today asked the Legislature to increase funding for drug treatment by $17 million. "There is an overwhelming linkage between drugs and crime," he said. "The number one thing we can do to fight crime is fight drugs, and the number one thing we can do to fight drugs is to do a better job with drug treatment."

Miller supported drug treatment proposals by other state agencies totaling just over $7 million, and he urged lawmakers to provide $7 million for programs to treat drug-addicted caretakers and their children. He also called for spending $3 million to expand drug courts in Iowa. [ Click here for "white paper" on Miller's drug treatment proposal .]

Miller announced his proposals at a news conference at his office, joined by Iowa Drug Policy Coordinator Marvin Van Haaften, and two recovering methamphetamine abusers who have succeeded with drug treatment, Lisa Bright and Vicki Sickels.

This is the fourth year that Miller has offered a major proposal to strengthen drug treatment and cut crime. "This program will not fully fund the drug treatment need in Iowa, but it is a big step in the right direction," he said. "State spending on drug treatment has declined 13% since 2001 while we have been fighting the meth crisis. If we're going to be effective against meth, we need tough penalties, good prevention and more treatment. We're falling down on treatment funding."

Miller said that passage of the Iowa Pseudoephedrine Control Law last year resulted in a dramatic decline in dangerous meth labs in the state, but it has not solved the state's meth problem. "We're hearing that the number of meth labs is down dramatically, but the supply of meth in Iowa, and the demand for it, have not decreased. Imported meth appears to be taking the place of the meth previously made in labs. It's still an urgent problem," he said.

One new aspect of the meth crisis is that drug-related child abuse is on the rise, Miller said. "There has been a steep climb in child abuse in Iowa and we think meth is one of the major causes," he said. In 2004, the Iowa Dept.. of Human Services confirmed 1,713 cases of child abuse involving an illegal drug being present in a child's body as a result of the actions of a parent or other caretaker - an increase of more than 150 percent since 2001. There also were 299 cases where meth was being made in the presence of a child.

"But those numbers understate the problem," Miller said. "They do not address physical or sexual abuse or denial of critical care caused by parents or caretakers being on meth or other drugs." Miller cited a DHS study assessing the impact of meth on child protection cases in the 16-county Council Bluffs service area, which found that 49% of the child welfare cases of DHS workers in that area had a known "meth factor" - parents using, "cooking," or selling the drug.

Expand treatment for women and caretakers with children, and expand drug courts:

Miller proposed that the state fund treatment facilities that allow substance abusing parents to receive services alongside their children while obtaining substance abuse treatment. Iowa currently has 3 such facilities: House of Mercy in Des Moines, Heart of Iowa in Cedar Rapids, and Jackson Recovery in Sioux City. Miller said that funds are needed to ensure the continued success of these programs and to expand the concept to high-need areas of the state where such services do not currently exist.

"The three existing programs are models for drug treatment for women with children, and they provide an excellent blueprint for expanded drug treatment in communities with high rates of drug-related child abuse," Miller said. "These three programs are examples of effective programs that provide intensive drug treatment and family reunification skills for substance-abusing parents. It's a model we should support and replicate elsewhere around the state."

Miller also called for a $3 million expansion of drug courts in the state. "Substance abuse treatment centers for parents and caretakers of children work best when they are combined with family drug courts, such as the model created by Judge Karla Fultz in Des Moines," Miller said. Family drug courts give caretakers of children the opportunity to succeed in treatment while remaining connected with their children. Clients know that if they succeed in treatment they will be able to stay with their children, but, if they fail, they will have immediate sanctions."

"I understand it is hard to sell any spending increase when we have serious state budget problems, but this program will pay for itself in reduced crime and lower costs for incarceration, health care and human services," Miller said.

"Drug treatment reduces crime more than any other single thing we can do," he said. "It's proven to succeed and pay off." He cited a federal study showing that various criminal activity declined sharply among those who completed treatment: selling drugs dropped 78%, and arrests for any crime dropped 64%.

"Tough prosecution is very important," Miller said, "but it only works in conjunction with effective drug and alcohol treatment. Increasing the money available for substance abuse treatment will reduce crime and make Iowans safer." Miller said about four out of five persons in prison have a substance abuse problem. One-third of state prison inmates reported being under the influence of drugs at the time of their offense, according to a federal study.

The economic benefits of substance abuse treatment are much greater than its costs, Miller said. "Drug treatment saves money. Studies show that a dollar spent on drug treatment pays a $4 to $7 return, mostly in health care savings and increased productivity."

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