Friday, July 17, 2009

Naperville Sun - "County Leaders Warn of Effects on Budget Cuts" (6.23.09)


DuPage County officials warned Monday that cuts to drug treatment programs could end up harming everyone in the long run.

DuPage County State's Attorney Joe Birkett, DuPage County Public Defender Robert Miller and Karen Notko, administrator for Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities, held a press conference in the DuPage County Courthouse in Wheaton to protest the proposed state budget.

TASC, a not-for-profit organization that provides behavioral health recovery services for individuals with substance abuse and mental health disorders, received a letter from the state stating that after July 1, it would no longer receive funding for individuals going through TASC's rehabilitation services.

Notko's office alone deals with 150 clients who rely on state funding for help. If the 76 percent cut goes through, only 36 individuals would be treated and TASC would be forced to suspend its intake.

"How do I choose?" Notko said. "Do I choose the single mother with children? Or the 45-year-old with substance abuse problems and a mental illness? What happens to the other 114? Will they haunt hospitals or go on DuPage County paths because they're homeless? Or will they repeatedly enter the court system?"

If the individuals are released untreated, it is possible many of them will end up in jail or be repeatedly tried through the court systems, which will only cost taxpayers more, Notko said.

In DuPage County there have been more than 160 drug-related deaths in the past three years, including 13 so far in 2009.

"If these cuts were to take place it would be damaging to Illinois' criminal justice system," Birkett said. "Cutting funding to vital organizations such as TASC that provide crucial services for drug related offenses would end up costing the state significantly more money in the long run. The governor's penny-wise and pound-foolish budget proposals make absolutely no sense.

"Currently, it costs Illinois taxpayers approximately $4,500 a year per individual for TASC and treatment. When you compare this number to the more than $20,000 each year it costs taxpayers to incarcerate an offender, you can see that service organizations such as TASC actually save the taxpayer a significant amount of money every year," Birkett said.

Miller said he has relied on TASC many times.

"The benefits of using TASC are multi-faceted. We don't want repeat offenders. We represent people who have been charged with thefts up to murders that are drug-related. But you can't use the community as a petri dish," Miller said.

He urged Gov. Quinn and the Illinois General Assembly to replace the funding so they can continue the programs they have.

Notko said if the cut goes through, they will be left with three options. The first would be to send nonviolent offenders to prison, costing taxpayers eight times more than it does to treat them through TASC. The second is sending them to county jails, which Notko said would cost taxpayers an extra $2,100 to $3,700 per person, per month. And third, addicts can be released to the community with their addictions without access to treatment or supervision.

Eliminating state funding won't just affect those in treatment, Notko said. About 10 people are affected by every one drug addict, including family, friends and co-workers.

"TASC saves money, reduces re-arrest and lays the foundation for positive and lasting change," Notko said.

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