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County asks if voters back drug and alcohol treatment

Wednesday, October 27, 2004
Pioneer Press
by ANDREW SCHROEDTER

An advisory referendum that calls for increased state funding of alcohol and drug abuse programs will appear on Cook County ballots Tuesday, though Citizens Activated to Challenge Healthcare, a coalition of 67 agencies, failed to collect enough signatures to put the question before every Illinois voter.

Sara Moscato, of the Illinois Alcoholism and Drug Dependence Association, said more than 100,000 signatures were collected during a nine-month period, though the number was short of the 300,000 needed to place the referendum on ballots in every Illinois precinct.

The coalition calls the ballot question the "treatment on demand initiative," to provide state residents greater access to substance abuse treatment regardless of their economic status.

Proponents of the initiative say a positive response from Cook County voters would go a long way toward the creation of a pro-active state program offering treatment for the 1.5 million Illinois residents that were denied the option last year because they couldn't afford it.

Moscato said during the fiscal year 2004, 90,000 residents received treatment for drug and alcohol addictions at a cost of $159 million to the state.

Treatment on demand would "ensure that there'd be enough state funding to provide addicts with an adequate level of care," she said. "Right now, there isn't enough funding."

In June, the County Board unanimously passed a resolution placing the advisory referendum on the November ballot, said Cass Cliatt, a spokesman for Cook County Clerk David Orr's office.

Traditionally, such nonbinding advisory referendums are used as political tools to gauge the public's interest in a particular matter.

Congressman Danny Davis, D-7th, is among those who pushed to put the question on the ballot. He argues it's less costly to treat addicts than to convict and incarcerate them.

It's estimated that drugs and alcohol contribute to the jailing of 80 percent of inmates in U.S. prisons, according to Cook County Board data, though the recidivism rates decline by 75 percent for those that receive treatment for their addictions.

Moscato said the state pays an average of $34,000 per year to incarcerate someone in the Illinois Department of Corrections, as opposed to an annual drug treatment cost of $2,600.

"The cost savings is overwhelming," she said.

Cook County Commissioner Larry Suffredin, D-13th, said the idea has his full backing.

With overcrowding at Cook County Jail a major problem, Suffredin said providing residents with greater access to treatment may ultimately reduce the congestion.

"We're very concerned about the number of people being released into the community without resources," he said. "We've got to let people know all the areas of social service that we're filling in for the state."

 

 



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