Time to fund real solutions for drug issues

By Morton Marcus

The Indiana General Assembly has a wonderfully easy-to-use site for residents who wants to know about bills introduced by subject or author. I don’t know who is responsible for this site, but hats off to him, her and them.

I found 43 bills on the subject of drugs. There may be many others if I searched more diligently. Imagine that: Indiana, a state in denial, is concerned about drugs, a well-known scourge, and the primary cause of many safety, economic, education and health problems.

State Sen. Jim Merritt has authored 14 of the 43 bills. Naturally, I find the most compelling to be Senate bill 244, which mandates a fiscal impact study of drugs and drug addiction.

Normally, a fiscal impact study concerns the revenues and expenditures of government. But bill 244 goes further. It calls for an economic impact study which includes workforce concerns and private expenditures on prevention and remediation.

Drug and alcohol use among residents seeking employment or holding a job could be the most serious short-term economic issue in Indiana. Long-term, that use causes children to be born and raised under conditions which retard all aspects of their lives. Drugs, as we have enforced our laws, require larger jails, more judges and more police and probation officers.

The consequences of drug and alcohol usage are well known. But, as a state and a nation, we have not been willing to put the necessary resources into prevention and remediation. If we knew the costs of drugs, we could be as serious in our efforts to reduce their use by the rich and well-educated as we are to deplore them when used by the poor and poorly-educated.

Recently at a Rotary Club meeting in Portland (Jay County), drugs were identified by leading residents as a critical factor in poverty, health problems, unemployment, low levels of educational attainment, welfare dependency and many other public and personal woes. Where do the organizations in Jay County committed to prevention and remediation get the money to tackle drug problems?

Federal funding is uncertain. State funding is minimal. Private foundations are loath to choose one of society’s ills over the many that persist.

Yet, if drugs and alcohol are at the root of many social issues, destroying individuals and the communities in which they live, perhaps we do need to focus. Maybe expenditures on social welfare in its many aspects would be reduced if drug and alcohol problems were brought under control.

Prohibition and criminalization of addictions have not been solutions. Now is the time for a broad campaign, with major expenditures by governments and the private sector to find, implement and maintain programs that significantly reduce drug and alcohol use in our society.

As with other problems, solutions probably are known and used in many places. What impedes making that knowledge available, affordable and acceptable throughout Indiana?

Morton Marcus is an economist, formerly with the Indiana University Kelley School of Business. Send comments to letters@dailyjournal.net.