Monday, August 20, 2012

Funding for substance abuse prevention: the devil is in the details

Towards the end of today's "live chat" on the Seattle Times website, proponents of I-502 called for youth substance abuse prevention programs and pointed to the dedicated funds for prevention that are included in the initiative.  While I agree that substance abuse prevention funding is very much needed in Washington, the initiative would not provide prevention funding for everyone.

First of all, the fiscal impact statement for I-502 states that some marijuana tax revenue would go towards funding prevention programs through the Division of Behavioral Health and Recovery (DBHR).  DBHR in turn reports that the majority of the funding would go towards youth substance abuse treatment and the remaining would go towards funding Prevention Redesign Initiative (PRI) communities.  PRI funding is for the formation of coalitions, an evidence-based model for substance abuse prevention.  Coalitions could use those funds for prevention programming and prevention-interventions specialists in schools.  However, nowhere near all Washington communities are part of PRI.  For instance, in Seattle only two communities are part of the PRI.  While many more communities may be added to the PRI, not all communities in this state will, leaving big gaps in prevention and intervention services.

Secondly, the dedicated funds for youth substance abuse prevention could be diverted to the state's general fund within two years.  A good example of this is what happened with tobacco dedicated funds.  Our state used to put a lot of money into tobacco prevention.  A few years ago the legislature decided the tobacco dedicated fund should go to fill a state budget shortfall and now state tobacco prevention funding is gone.

But what about marijuana tax revenue in the general fund that would provide more money for education?  Prevention-intervention services (drug/alcohol counseling) is not part of the state's definition of basic education.  Because of that, it is highly unlikely that any tax revenue that goes to the general fund for education will ever make its way to fund substance abuse prevention-intervention services in schools.

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