Editorial: Public drug treatment costs essential

Bartholomew County’s Substance Abuse Public Funding Board has recommended city and county funding of $1.22 million for local substance abuse treatment efforts. Columbus City Council and the Bartholomew County Council should fund every penny of that request, if not more. We’re hard pressed to think of a more urgent local concern.

We have an unrelenting crisis on our hands, just as the rest of the state and the nation does, compliments of the opioid/fentanyl scourge. As The Republic’s Andy East reported, Bartholomew County is on pace this year to continue to set yet another record for overdose deaths. In last year’s latest new grim record, 33 people in the county died from drug overdoses. So far in 2022, 19 people have died — three more than had died at this point last year, according to Coroner Clayton Nolting.

And that says nothing of the many, many more people in our community who are struggling with addiction.

Some may scoff at spending public money for substance abuse treatment, but the costs are a drop in the bucket, and in truth, we do not spend nearly enough to help people who truly need it at their most desperate time. Hence the maddeningly long waits for treatment beds.

Sure, $1.22 million sounds like a lot of money. But the combined public budgets of Columbus City and Bartholomew County total more than $142 million a year. So even when requests are fully funded, we are spending less than 1% of our total local public funding on helping people recover from addiction.

This money funds multiple worthy efforts. As East reported, about half of it — $555,380 — goes to the Alliance for Substance Abuse Progress (ASAP). Another $248,195 goes to the Bartholomew County Adult Drug Recovery Court, $229,780 is for the Recovery Enables a Life for Men (REALM) program at Community Corrections and $189,414 is for the Bartholomew County Jail Addiction Treatment Program.

All of these and more deserve our support as a community.

It’s nearly impossible to calculate the true, monumental toll of opioid addiction, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tried to last year. In a detailed report based on 2017 data, the CDC concluded that the costs to American society of fatal drug overdoses and opioid addiction was more than $1 trillion annually.

In Indiana, the CDC estimates opioid overdose deaths and addiction costs more than $26 billion each year. This includes costs of health care, treatment, criminal justice costs, lost productivity and income, reduced quality of life and other factors. Extrapolating that data on a per capita basis, the CDC’s conclusions suggest the costs of all these opioid-related factors combined could be in the range of a staggering $300 million annually just in Bartholomew County.

And these are only the costs in dollars. This factors in none of the human costs. Addiction impacts not just the user, but families, relationships, neighborhoods and entire communities.

We’re never going to eradicate substance abuse from the human condition. However, our community — and particularly those we entrust to represent us — have a profound obligation to help those who need it and want it. To do otherwise wouldn’t just be poor governance. It would be inhuman.

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