A Smarter Battle Plan Against Substance Abuse - June 2001

Denver Women's Commission
A Smarter Battle Plan Against Substance Abuse - June 2001

June 30, 2001
Prepared by Chaer Robert
For Colorado Woman News


Carmelita Muñiz's mother was killed by a drunk driver. The same accident severely injured Muñiz. Her brother is living with HIV because of past drug abuse. Like many Colorado women, she knows the devastation that can result from drug and alcohol abuse. Unlike others, she now spends full time helping Colorado develop a smarter approach to reducing substance abuse. As the Executive Director of the Colorado Association of Alcohol and Drug Service Providers, she is working with Rep. Kay Alexander and other legislators to create a major shift in our state's approach to drug and alcohol abuse.

For every $100. spent on programs that address the wreckage of substance abuse in Colorado in 1998, only 6 cents was spent on prevention, treatment and research. The average amount other states spent on these was $3.70. We were dead last. Foster care, child welfare, prisons, courts, domestic violence programs, emergency room visits, special education and colleges are all impacted by, some to the tune of 65% to 75%, the ravages of substance abuse. The state funds these programs, but public substance abuse treatment and prevention dollars are very limited. In fact, Colorado is one of only three states that do not fund substance abuse treatment under Medicaid. Funding substance abuse treatment could actually save the state money.

The Colorado Substance Abuse Study Group, chaired by Muňiz, was formed as a response to communities across the state needing access to substance abuse services and represents a diverse spectrum of organizations. The Study Group met for over a year to design a more cost effective and successful approach to the State's investment. Last year, their best ideas, given fiscal constraints, were presented to the legislature as HB 1273. The bill passed the House HEWI Committee unanimously, but was killed in House Appropriations. Undaunted, Rep. Alexander will reintroduce a similar bill in 2002, and the Study Group will redouble its educational efforts. Among the bill’s components:

1. Required that health insurance that provides coverage for substance abuse treatment, provide that coverage whether the treatment is voluntary or court-ordered.
2. Required outpatient substance abuse treatment under the Medicaid program. (50% federally funded)
3. Required comprehensive substance abuse treatment services for women with children and children/youth primarily served under the Child Welfare, TANF and Colorado Works programs. ((50% federally funded)
4. Extended the same substance abuse treatment benefits to Native Americans ( 100% federally funded)

Women bear the brunt of alcohol and drug abuse by others. 78% of domestic violence victims report alcohol or drug abuse by the assailant. Up to 60% of sex offenders were drinking at the time of the assault. The growing phenomenon of grandparents raising grandchildren is often because of drug or alcohol use by the parent. Substance abuse by a family member was the 8th most common barrier to employment cited by Colorado women on welfare.

Women also abuse alcohol and drugs. About 1 in 12 Coloradoans report that they abuse or are dependent on alcohol or drugs. Rural areas have somewhat higher rates of abuse than urban/suburban areas. While 71% of all adult illicit drug users are employed, they are about twice as likely to have missed workdays, changed employers or left a job voluntarily. 41.5% of women in Colorado’s criminal justice system are diagnosed as alcohol or drug abusive or dependent. Up to 50% of all general hospital admissions are alcohol and drug related. Almost 20% of Medicaid dollars are spent on physical illnesses which result from alcohol or drug abuse.

Many people believe that treatment doesn’t work. In fact, treatment of addiction is as successful as treatment of other chronic relapsing diseases such as diabetes, hypertension and asthma. After six months of treatment, 40-70% of clients abusing alcohol have reduced consumption by at least 50%. Several studies document that drug treatment reduces drug use by 40-60%. Drug treatment reduces criminal activity by 40% or more. It reduces the risk of HIV infection, and improves prospects for employment.

Muňiz will tell you that Colorado is at a critical point. We rank #1 in marijuana use, #2 in alcohol abuse and #15 in drug abuse in the nation. Less than 50% of the adults and less than 20% of adolescents who need treatment have access to it. We can prevent it. We can treat it. We can’t afford to ignore it any longer.

For more information or to obtain the study group fact sheets call Carmelita Muňiz, Colorado Association of Alcohol and Drug Service Providers at 303-433-6022.