Illinois' smarter tack on drugs

While Congress mulls over a $1.6 billion aid package to fight the drug war in Colombia, Gov. George Ryan's proposed 2001 fiscal year budget contains a far more modest, yet effective, anti-narcotics tool: increased funding for treatment of alcohol and drug abuse.

The governor's proposal would increase state expenditures for treatment by 12 percent, from the current $198.1 million to $221.9 million annually.

If the legislature approves the governor's request -- and it ought to -- that will mean an increase of approximately $65 million, or nearly 42 percent over the last two years, for drug and alcohol rehabilitation.

Even then, state expenditures on treatment would be but a down payment compared to the need. In fiscal 1997 the state provided treatment to roughly 116,000 addicts and alcoholics, or about one-fourth of the estimated total that needed but couldn't afford it.

Ten million of the additional $23.8 million that Ryan proposes for drug treatment would come form Illinois' $9.1 billion share of the settlement of the suit against tobacco companies.

The tobacco money would expand services for drug-addicted youths in the juvenile court system, help men who need treatment but can't afford it, and expand treatment services in rural areas. A more appropriate use of the tobacco settlement money is hard to imagine.

Other funds would go to other undeserved populations, among them women released from prison and welfare clients whose substance abuse hinders their return to the workforce.

Alcoholism and drug addiction is an ailment requiring medical attention often unavailable to those populations most in need. Gov. Ryan's plan to begin to fill this gap deserves approval by the legislature.