Counties work around problems in drug treatment initiative, report says

By Don Thompson, Associated Press Writer
Friday October 05, 2001

SACRAMENTO — Seven California counties are not requiring drug testing for offenders who avoid jail under the state’s sweeping drug treatment program, according to a new report. 

However, most counties are finding ways to work around what had been foreseen as problems with Proposition 36, the state Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs said. The initiative that took effect July 1 requires treatment instead of jail for first- and second-time nonviolent drug users. 

Counties are generally requiring drug tests for Proposition 36 clients despite a ban on using drug initiative money for that purpose. And they are devoting the bulk of their state money to treatment rather than law enforcement, the department found in a review of all 58 counties’ treatment plans. 

Larry Brown, executive director of the California District Attorneys Association, said he is concerned that seven counties are not requiring drug testing, which he said “is integral to effective treatment and holding offenders accountable.” 

But he was encouraged that 51 counties were requiring the tests despite the uncertainty over funding. The remaining seven counties were not identified in the report or by department officials. 

“I’d be surprised if ultimately drug testing isn’t part of the regimen in all counties,” Brown said. 

Proposition 36 opponents had worried there would be no way to test drug users because the initiative approved by voters nearly a year ago specifically banned using any of the $120 million distributed to counties for treatment programs. 

Now, most counties are counting on Gov. Gray Davis to sign a bill that would contribute an additional $18 million in state and federal money for drug testing, said William Demers, president of the County Alcohol and Drug Administrators Association of California. A Davis spokesman said the governor likely won’t decide whether to sign the bill until next week, days before his Oct. 14 deadline. 

Some counties also are using county money and client fees to pay for the tests, according to the study compiled for the state by Washington, D.C.-based Healthy Systems Research Inc. 

Eleven of the 12 largest counties, seven of the nine medium-sized counties and 33 of the 37 smallest counties plan to make drug testing mandatory, the researchers found. 

The 12 largest counties — Alameda, Contra Costa, Fresno, Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, Sacramento, San Bernardino, San Diego, San Francisco, Santa Clara and Ventura — contain 77 percent of the state’s population and together anticipate sending about 46,000 drug offenders to treatment programs during the fiscal year that began July 1. 

The nine medium counties — Kern, Monterey, San Joaquin, San Mateo, Santa Barbara, Solano, Sonora, Stanislaus and Tulare — include 13 percent of the state’s population and expect about 15,500 Proposition 36 offenders in the program’s first year. 

The remaining 37 least populated counties include about 10 percent of the population and expect to send more than 9,000 clients to treatment this year, the report found. 

The bulk of state funds is going to treatment, despite treatment providers’ fear that too much would be siphoned off to probation departments and other law enforcement groups, the report found. 

The 12 largest counties plan to spend an average 77.5 percent on treatment and services like literacy and vocational training and family counseling, ranging from 95 percent in San Francisco to 57 percent in San Bernardino. 

The nine medium counties plan to devote an average 85 percent of their money for treatment, ranging from more than 91 percent in San Joaquin and San Mateo to 76.5 percent in Santa Barbara. 

The 37 smallest counties expect 80 percent of their money will go to treatment. They have both the state’s highest and lowest percentage going to such services: 100 percent in Nevada County and 51.5 percent in Tuolumne. 

Counties should spend at least 83 percent on treatment, contended Whitney Taylor of the Lindesmith Center, a Proposition 36 proponent. But Sacramento County Alcohol and Drug Administrator Toni Moore, said her county decided to split its budget 60-40 with law enforcement to foster a “partnership” with police, judges and probation officers. 

The smallest counties are anticipating a massive increase in treatment programs to handle the influx. 

Nine of the small counties plan to more than double their existing programs, and two counties — Plumas and San Benito — said they would have an increase in treatment programs.