Study Finds Significant Financial Benefits of Providing Substance Abuse Treatment. Latest study addresses policy makers’ concerns on spending public dollars on drug and alcohol treatment

Every dollar spent on substance abuse treatment generates $7 in monetary benefits for society, according to a new study from researchers at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA).

Published in the online early edition of the peer-reviewed journal, Health Services Research, the study finds that the average cost of substance abuse treatment is $1,583, resulting in monetary benefits of $11,487 through reduced medical expenses, reduced costs of crime and increased employment earnings.

“Policy-makers are generally more inclined to support treatment programs for substance abuse if they pay for themselves through reductions in other types of costs, such as health care, criminal justice expenses, social programs, and unemployment benefits. This study clearly demonstrates the financial benefits of providing treatment for drug and alcohol problems,” according to Susan Ettner, lead author and professor of general internal medicine and health services research at UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine and School of Public Health.

The researcher team used data from 2,567 clients in 43 treatment programs in 13 California counties during 2000 and 2001, through the California Treatment Outcome Project (CalTOP).

The research team estimated cost of treatment for an individual by multiplying the number of days spent in each treatment setting, such as residential or outpatient, by the average daily cost of each mode of treatment, estimated using cost data collected from treatment providers.

Monetary benefits associated with treatment were estimated using administrative records as well as data provided by each client prior to treatment and nine months after treatment began. The study examined costs of medical care, mental health services, criminal activity, earnings, and related costs of government programs such as unemployment and public aid.

The California Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs, the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Substance Abuse Policy Research Program (SAPRP) provided primary support for the study.

“Substance abuse treatment is often needed by those who are indigent and are therefore dependent on services that are publicly financed. Given the stigma associated with substance abuse and the skepticism about the value of rehabilitation, financing for substance abuse treatment often runs into the question of whether or not it is beneficial in human and monetary terms. This study adds to a growing body of research showing the benefits of substance abuse treatment,” according to Ettner.

The study’s other findings:

  • Treatment costs of clients who began with outpatient care totaled $838 compared to $2,791 for those who began in residential care.
  • Reductions were seen in hospital inpatient, emergency room and mental health services costs, but only the $223 reduction in emergency room costs was statistically significant.
  • Reduction in the cost of victimization and other criminal activities averaged $5,676.
  • No significant changes were seen related to unemployment or disability costs. However, welfare payments increased slightly, perhaps due to increased referrals to public aid programs.

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