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Monday, June 15, 2009

Drug-Free Lee County


Drug-Free Lee County -- Consider the Savings
Reprinted - Opelika Auburn News, June 14, 2009


On May 23, 2009 the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) released its "Shoveling Up II: The Impact of Substance Abuse on Federal, State and Local Budgets," report reflecting that drug and alcohol abuse and addiction cost Alabama taxpayers nearly 1.4 billion dollars a year, or about 13% of its budget. Most of these costs are in budgets for prisons, welfare, courts and police, with only a small fraction for prevention and treatment. CASA called this the use of public funds "to shovel up the consequences and human wreckage of substance abuse and addiction." See www.casacolumbia.org for further details.

It is fair to speculate that 13% of the budgets of Lee County and the cities of Auburn, Opelika and Smith Station, and maybe even AU, are in some manner related to paying for the consequences of substance abuse and addiction. It is also a well-known statistic that 70% of all drug abusers are employed. Consider the cost savings if:
  • All governmental units in Lee County passed resolutions encouraging Lee County employers to institute a Alabama Drug Free Workplace Program, which entitles an employer to a 5% premium discount on their workers compensation, creates adverse consequences for substance abuse with treatment resources. The EASHRM Chapter has offered employer training on this topic with Dr. Garth Stauffer, a highly qualify Medical Review Officer, and policy development and implementation training could be offered throughout Lee County;
  • The Drug Court Program pioneered by Circuit Judge Walker (on which team I was privilege to serve and which bill passed in the last legislative session) may become operational in August 2009 starting to turn around the lives of first-time drug offenders who find themselves caught in the criminal justice system and are motivated to change;
  • Lee County Sheriff Jay Jones is able to drug test all arrested and detained in the Lee County Detention Center. Sherriff Jones is of the personal opinion that “65-75% of all Lee County arrests are in some manner drug involvement or related.” Therefore, referral for substance abuse counseling and treatment through the Substance Abuse Services Division of the Alabama Department of Mental Health just down the street could make a long term dent in Lee County crime;
  • AU Dean of Students Dr. Johnny Green and the AU Inter-Fraternity and Panhellenic Councils strongly encourage all fraternities and sororities to institute effective drug-free programs, with notice to parents for non-compliance; and
  • The drug-free schools programs currently being operated in Lee County receive even greater support with extensive parental education made available possibly utilizing the soon-to-be published book by CASA Founder and Chair Joseph A. Califano, Jr., How to Raise a Drug-Free Kid: The Straight Dope for Parents – a guide to help parents get their kids through the pre-teen, teen and college years drug free;
Practical Counsel: In my 15 years of practicing in the field of Drug Testing Law, written rules, accountability and compassion are the keys to any effective Drug Free Program. What amazing things could our communities do with 13% of budget?

Tommy Eden is a Lee County native, an attorney with the local office of Constangy, Brooks & Smith, LLP and a member of the ABA Section of Labor and Employment Law and serves on the Board of Directors for the East Alabama SHRM Chapter. He can be contacted at teden@constangy.com or 334-246-2901. Blog at www.alabamaatwork.com