The Sequester’s Effects On Mental Health and Substance Abuse Treatment

Friday, March 29th, 2013

Substance abuse treatment services are designed to provide a safe, judgment-free environment for addicts to address the personal issues that resulted in their substance abuse. As of March 1, 2013, many of these programs are under attack by the so called federal sequestration. Sequestration is the process of enforcing budget cuts to federal programs in order to lessen the federal deficit. The budget cuts are estimated to impact hundreds of thousands of individuals seeking admission into inpatient substance abuse facilities, as well as mental health treatment centers.

Sequestration’s Effect on Substance Abuse Treatment Programs

Unfortunately, health care analysts are predicting that cuts to substance abuse treatment centers will produce a significant effect on society as a whole. It is estimated that at least 21.6 million Americans need help with substance abuse, and this does not include those who are at risk for substance abuse due to mental health issues. Because substance abuse affects so many Americans, it is expected that the cuts will result in a domino effect that will increase other social problems.

Fewer Preventative Programs

In addition to opportunities for therapy at substance abuse treatment centers, the budget cuts will also impact the preventative programs geared at high-risk youth. These programs include safe and drug-free schools, the EUDL (Enforcing Underage Drinking Laws) program, children’s mental health services, and youth violence and suicide prevention programs. Several of these programs focus on supporting children of substance abusers who are at higher risk for mental health issues and substance abuse. With less funding, the programs will be available to fewer children, leaving more children in high-risk situations.

Potentially Higher Rates of Incarceration

Incarceration costs taxpayers an astronomical amount of money every year. Substance abuse treatment programs actually reduce this expense by a considerable amount. A study that focused on the Residential Substance Abuse Treatment (RSAT) program revealed that youth offenders who successfully completed the program had a significantly lower recidivism rate than other juvenile offenders. The study also noted that for every dollar spent on substance abuse programs for criminal offenders, the government may actually save $4-$7 on costs linked to drug-related crime.

Exacerbation of Other Social Problems

Sequestration is cutting funding from several other social programs, which may result in an increased need for mental health and substance abuse treatment. For example, cuts in housing allowance may result in high-stress situations where vulnerable individuals may cave under the pressure. In turn, there will likely be an even higher need for treatment, but less availability. Homelessness is expected to increase, especially with further cuts to employee assistance programs. The combination of poverty-related stress and substance abuse will possibly increase rates of domestic abuse, as well. The increased frequency of these social problems will create a higher need for funding to other social programs, which could have been prevented had the root of the problem been addressed in substance abuse treatment centers or mental health facilities.