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California Study Finds Drug Treatment Saves Tax Dollars


September-October 1994

A study of California drug treatment centers confirms what most health care professionals already know -- drug treatment works and is cost effective. For every dollar that goes into treatment, the public saves $7 in health care and crime costs ("Evaluating Recovery Services: The California Drug and Alcohol Treatment Assessment (CALDATA)," Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs, April 1994; Sheryl Stolberg, "Drug Treatment Saves $1.5 Billion," San Francisco Chronicle, Aug. 29, 1994, p. A3).

The study, commissioned and paid for by the state and conducted by the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) at the University of Chicago and Lewin-VHI of Fairfax, Virginia, was hailed as the most comprehensive ever carried out in the United States.

Researchers found that drug treatment was effective for participants regardless of race, class, drug abused, or the kind of treatment program. The study found that drug abusers cost the state $3.1 billion, with more than 70% of that amount in crime costs (police, prosecution, and prisons), $1.3 billion going into medical costs, property damage and lost work for crime victims, and $442 million spent on medical care for abusers.

After treatment, the cost of drug abusers' crimes fell by $1 billion, with other decreases in the costs for abuser health care. Overall, the level of crime dropped by two-thirds after treatment, with the longer the time spent in treatment the greater the reduction in criminal activity.

Alan Leshner, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (part of the National Institutes of Health), praised the study. "This is what I call slam-dunk evidence," he said. "Most people don't believe treatment works, and they're wrong. That's why a study like this is so important."

[To obtain a copy of this report, contact the California Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs, Resource Center, 1700 K Street, Sacramento, CA 95814, (916) 327-3728 or (800) 879-2772. Specify publication #628 and #629.]