No announcement yet.

Bush Treatment Initiative Draws Mixed Reviews from Reformers

  • Filter
  • Time
  • Show
Clear All
new posts

    Bush Treatment Initiative Draws Mixed Reviews from Reformers

    During his State of the Union address Tuesday night, President
    Bush announced a new drug treatment initiative, promising a $600
    million dollar program to place an additional 300,000 people in
    treatment during the next three years. "As a government," said
    Bush, "we are fighting illegal drugs by cutting off supplies, and
    reducing demand through anti-drug education programs. Yet for
    those already addicted, the fight against drugs is a fight for
    their own lives."

    Bush tied the treatment initiative to his push for faith-based
    initiatives as "acts of compassion that can transform America, one
    heart and one soul at a time." He further emphasized the faith-
    based aspect of his program when the only treatment provider he
    mentioned in was the Healing Place Church in Baton Rouge, LA. And
    he waxed religious again, telling Americans who are addicted to
    drugs that "the miracle of recovery is possible, and it could be

    On Wednesday, Bush's point man on drug policy, drug czar John
    Walters, provided a few details at a Washington press conference.
    The new initiative creates a voucher program that will complement
    existing alcohol and drug abuse treatment programs, said Walters,
    increasing treatment capacity and access to effective treatment
    programs. Under the plan, people assessed as needing drug
    treatment will receive vouchers to pay for drug treatment under
    programs monitored by the states. The states will be required to
    monitor the outcomes of treatment and seek cost-effective
    treatment modalities.

    "This initiative offers a new and effective way for the federal
    government to help people get into recovery," said Walters. "We
    know that treatment works. But we also know that there are too
    many Americans who, for a variety of reasons, cannot access the
    treatment they need. By giving people a choice, and the direct
    means to help connect them with effective treatment, we will be
    able to more directly help drug users who have recognized their
    problem. This program will also help treatment providers and the
    overall drug treatment system by bringing increased accountability
    into the system."

    Drug reformers and treatment experts greeted the announcement with
    a mixture of wariness, mistrust and hope. "We hope this means
    that people given vouchers can seek out not just unproven faith-
    based programs, but also treatment modalities that are well-
    studied and known to be effective," said Bill McColl, a policy
    analyst for the Drug Policy Alliance (
    "Study after study has shown there are effective forms of
    treatment, such as cognitive behavior therapy and moderation
    management," he told DRCNet.

    Dr. Bill Miller, Distinguished Professor of Psychology and
    Psychiatry at the University of New Mexico and former co-director
    of the school's Center for Alcohol, Substance Abuse and Addiction,
    also urged the use of proven drug treatment models.

    "I think the government ought to be putting its money into
    evidence-based treatments, not experimental ones," he told DRCNet.
    "Faith-based, what does that mean? What is the treatment that is
    being delivered?" he asked. "I haven't seen any evidence for the
    efficacy of treatment based on religious content, but that's not
    to say that a faith-based counseling center using couldn't use
    evidence-based treatments. We're not talking about faith healing
    here, and I hope the government will spend its money in a way that
    encourages people to use the scientific base that is available."

    Mary Barr, director of Conextions (, a
    New Jersey counseling center that combines public education,
    broad-based counseling and drug treatment, was skeptical about
    where the treatment dollars would end up. "Bush is going to say
    this is a drug treatment initiative, but he is going to put more
    money in law enforcement anyway," Barr told DRCNet. "He said he's
    going to create 300,000 new spaces; how is he going to do that
    when he's putting everyone in jail? Will these be spaces for
    court-ordered treatment?"

    That's a good question, and there is as yet no firm answer. The
    Bush Justice Department sought substantial funding increases to
    support drug courts and their mandated drug treatment in budget
    proposals released last week. But the Drug Policy Alliance's
    McColl doesn't think drug courts will eat up all the funds. "It
    will be up to the states," he said. "The likelihood is that we
    will see substantial non-criminal justice system treatment, but a
    lot of grants currently go to coercive treatment. We just don't
    have any information on how much will go to drug courts yet."

    Kevin Zeese of Common Sense for Drug Policy (
    also expressed concern about what the treatment money would buy.
    "A word of caution is needed," Zeese told DRCNet. "The treatment
    push has been leaning too much toward coercion and faith-based
    treatment in recent years. It is important that we start to treat
    drug treatment as a health issue, not a criminal justice issue and
    not a religious issue."

    If groups like DPA and CSDP expressed reservations about the
    initiative, organizations representing marijuana users -- the vast
    majority of all drug users -- are even less excited. Among drug
    czar Walters' other initiatives is the ongoing campaign to portray
    marijuana as a dangerously addictive drug and its users as drug
    addicts needing treatment. "In many ways, this treatment
    initiative is shaped to play into the drug czar's campaign theme
    that marijuana is addictive," said Paul Armentano, senior policy
    analyst for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana
    Laws ( "Of course, that's not the case," he
    told DRCNet, "but with marijuana arrests at an all-time high, many
    will be arrested and face the option of treatment or jail. We
    don't believe the overwhelming majority of marijuana smokers need
    or will benefit from drug treatment, but that helps pump up the
    numbers of smokers in treatment and advances Walters' false
    argument," he said.

    "It's a double-edged sword," Armentano continued. "We don't want
    to see marijuana smokers going to jail. So from a pragmatic
    standpoint, I guess we applaud that choice. But we have to
    remember these people are seeking treatment not because they are
    in trouble with their habit, but because it's that or jail."

    Mary Barr, herself a veteran of brutal "therapeutic community"
    treatment programs based on the Synanon model, remains wary of any
    sort of coerced treatment, but also reluctantly agreed that it
    beat jail. "I distrust mandated treatment," said Barr. "Mandated
    treatment leads us down a dangerous path. People are caught up in
    the criminal justice system and go to prison if they break the
    rules. I don't want to give up and say that mandatory treatment
    is okay, but until we have some real changes in policy, even that
    is better than nothing. What we really need is treatment on
    demand, not by court-order, and the only way to get money for that
    is to stopping spending it on throwing people in jail. Let's take
    the money out of corrections and put it in social programs."

    But this is the Bush version of a social program, and there may be
    some good to it. "No one really knows how this will work yet,"
    said DPA's McColl. "The devil is in the details."