The High Cost of Drugs and Drink

If the holidays make you think about a drink, think again.

There's actually a National Alcohol & Drug Addiction Recovery Month. That means its a big problem for a lot of people.

How big a problem?

The estimated cost of alcohol and drug abuse in Massachusetts alone is almost $3.8 billion per year, and nearly $166 billion nationwide. That amounts to more than $600 per person per year to compensate for this problem in the commonwealth.

It is further estimated that about one-third of all hospital patients, tens of thousands in Massachusetts, are admitted for alcohol-related problems alone.

One in 20 babies are born to mothers who have used illegal drugs during their pregnancies; nearly two in three prisoners in the Federal prison system have been incarcerated due to drug offenses.

Nearly one-third of all HIV infections are spread through the use of intravenous drugs.

More than fifty-percent of all Massachusetts high school students use alcohol; a third use marijuana, and 40 percent said that they would do so again.

It is obvious that the impact of drug and alcohol abuse goes far beyond these figures of lost wages and productivity, and that the real, human cost of these problems cannot accurately be measured.

But there are ways to mitigate the damage caused by the abuse of drugs and alcohol.

In an experimental program in Rochester, NY, for example, 172 drug offenders were monitored by the justice system from 1995 to the present. The court staffers, judges, and individual case managers worked closely to guide these offenders through the steps of recovery. Of the 172 persons in the study, only 12 have been rearrested, and nearly 85 percent have completed the program.

That is the type of success that would be very welcome in Massachusetts.

Drug treatment programs have also been very successful in reducing the number of children born to drug-using mothers. More than 95 percent of all women enrolled in these drug-treatment programs reported drug-free, uncomplicated births.

Of these drug-using women, three quarters of them remained drug-free after their treatments, and fully two-thirds recovered their children from foster care. More than 80 percent of these children who participated with their mothers in these programs showed a measurable improvement in their school work.

In 1996, The Coalition for Alcohol Free Kids was created in Massachusetts. The coalition is aimed at combating the abuses of drugs and alcohol amongst young people. It is comprised of individuals from all walks of life who believe that the best way to fight the growing problem of alcohol abuse in the younger segments of society is though education and prevention and treatment programs.

Closer to home, the Hampden County Sheriff's Office runs an alcohol and drug detoxification center as a part of the House of Corrections. This center, located in Springfield, serves to help inmates rid themselves of their addictions, in anticipation of their return for the community. It is also used extensively to help those persons convicted of drunk driving offenses kick the habit.

What does this all mean?

Well, it means that there is an enormous drug and alcohol problem nationwide, and in our own state. In our own back-yards, for that matter. That much we know.

It means that the recent sky-rocketing prison populations are caused, at least in part, by crackdowns on drug-related crimes and on mandatory sentencing for these crimes. We all want that.

But what all these facts and figures also show is that there is progress being made in regards to attempting a solution to these drug-related problems.

Education and close monitoring have proven to be an effective means of rehabilitating many different types of drug and alcohol offenders.

Counseling and treatment has drastically increased the numbers of drug-free births among women who participate in them. They have helped to increase the quality of life for hundreds, if not thousands, of children of addicts in recovery.

There is still work to be done.

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