Budget cuts have substance abuse treatment providers concerned

Bob Schaper

There was a time when Heather Patterson thought she was going to die.

All six of her children were gone, taken by the state. She didn’t know how to be a mother, a woman or a productive member of society. All she cared about was the next fix of crack cocaine.

“I knew something needed to change,” she said.

So on Christmas Eve 1996, Patterson, now 40, entered the Rosecrance Substance Abuse Treatment Center on Harrison Avenue in Rockford. Eventually she completed both an inpatient and outpatient program there, which led to the return of her children and a steady job.

But now, as Rosecrance and similar organizations across the state face a crippling cut in state dollars, Patterson said she’s scared people like her will soon be on their own.

“I can’t imagine that place not being there to help people,” she said. “They loved me unconditionally. I owe them everything.”

Lawmakers in Springfield may disagree about the cause and motives behind Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s $1.4 billion budget cut earlier this month, but local advocates for alcohol- and substance-abuse treatment programs are unanimous in their belief that the impact on the Rock River Valley will be severe. Some, including Bridget Kiely, the Rockford administrator of Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities, predicted higher crime rates and an increase in narcotics-related chaos.

“You better lock your front and back doors,” she said.

Prison or treatment?

On July 22, TASC and about 150 other agencies across the state were notified that $55 million had been cut from the Division of Alcohol and Substance Abuse, part of the governor’s wider cuts.

Laura Ortiz is chairwoman of the Winnebago County Crime and Public Safety Commission, a group of volunteers who advise county leaders on how best to spend county funds to reform criminals and prevent crime. She called the governor’s cuts “tragic.”

“The commission is very concerned; we feel it’s the wrong decision,” she said. “Alcohol and drug treatment is crucial to preventing crime. Drugs and alcohol are the root of the majority of crime.”

Jacob Acton, 26, got involved with TASC in November 2007 after being charged with theft. He said he was stealing in order to support his opiate habit, which included OxyContin, methadone, Vicodin and others.

“They were offering me three years in prison,” he said. “It was either prison or TASC.”

Acton is nearly finished with his outpatient treatment and credited his counselor with his success.

“I’m really grateful at this point in my life,” he said. “My life is changing a lot for the better. TASC definitely helped me. They hold you accountable.”

Rosecrance stands to lose $1.4 million in state funding, said Philip Eaton, president and chief executive officer. He called Blagojevich’s cuts, which will result in the layoff of 33 employees in November, “horrible public policy.”

“Treatment works,” Eaton said. “Untreated addiction in a community has devastating and expensive consequences. ... It is no secret that our largest building project in Winnebago County has been a jail.”

Finger-pointing in Springfield

Blagojevich, a Democrat, made his cuts after claiming spending exceeded revenue by $2.1 billion. Blagojevich spokesman Brian Williamsen did not respond to a request for comment Thursday, but he previously had said that groups such as Rosecrance should “join us in finding a way to convince the House leadership to pass the revenue funding that the Senate passed in May.”

On July 16, the House voted to restore $480 million in spending, but took no action to generate any additional revenue.

Meanwhile, Senate President Emil Jones Jr., D-Chicago, refused to call the Senate into session to vote on whether to reverse the governor’s spending cuts. He said last week in a letter to newspapers that there’s no point convening the Senate because the state doesn’t have the money to back up that additional spending.

Winnebago County Board Chairman Scott Christiansen said he was interested in meeting with the heads of the nonprofits to discuss ways to help them through the tough times. But, he added, the county’s 1-cent public safety sales tax, which was approved by voters in 2002 to pay for the $142 million jail, already supports Rosecrance and PHASE.

“It’s not a bottomless pit, this public safety tax,” he said.

Christiansen said Rosecrance will receive $636,807 from November of last year through Sept. 30, 2009, from the public safety tax. PHASE is on tap to get $208,000 for community services, plus $56,000 for drug court.

In addition, Christiansen noted, the county budgeted $1.88 million this year for in-house intervention programs and mental health courts, bringing the total for such programs to $3.76 million.

‘Because they can’

Last year the state funded treatment for 98,000 individuals, Eaton said. But an additional 6,500 were on a waiting list. If the current round of cuts stand, an additional 45,000 could go without treatment, he said.

According to the Illinois Alcoholism Drug and Dependence Association, a statewide nonprofit group that represents prevention and treatment agencies, untreated addiction costs the state $3 billion a year. The costs include higher health insurance rates, more criminals to incarcerate, child abuse and neglect, and lost productivity on the job.

Karen Gill, vice president of operations for Rockford-based PHASE, a nonprofit group that provides drug and alcohol treatment services for adults and adolescents, said the cuts to her agency already have led to the elimination of 2.5 full-time jobs.

Gill said the $284,000 cut from her organization will result in 600 fewer individuals who can be helped. Some of the group’s programs, such as treating mentally ill substance abusers, will be completely eliminated, she said.

“They took 100 percent of those programs,” she said.

Eaton said other agencies under the human services umbrella were cut by no more than 5 percent. As for why Blagojevich chose to cut alcohol and substance abuse treatment, Eaton said he could only guess.

“My speculation? Because they can,” Eaton said. “It’s not a popular client base. We don’t see active substance abusers ... lobbying for their treatment services.”

Bob Schaper can be reached at (815) 987-1410 or bschaper@rrstar.com. Aaron Chambers contributed to this story.

Area treatment centers affected by budget cuts

Rosecrance Health Network

Main addresses: Rosecrance Griffin Williamson Adolescent Campus, 1601 University Drive, Rockford; Rosecrance Harrison Adult Campus, 3815 Harrison Ave., Rockford

Services provided: Adolescent treatment services, adult treatment services, recovery homes

Type of care: Inpatient, outpatient and residential

Telephone: (815) 391-1000

Web site: Rosecrance.org

PHASE Inc. (Personal Health/Abuse Services and Education)

Address: 516 Green St., Rockford

Services provided: Adult and adolescent outpatient and outpatient substance-abuse treatment, driver remedial education for DUI offenders and ancillary methadone medication services

Type of care: Outpatient

Telephone: (815) 962-0871

Web site: phasewave.org

TASC (Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities)

Address: 119 N. Church St., Suite 202, Rockford

Services provided: Behavioral health recovery management services for individuals with substance-abuse and mental-health disorders

Type of care: TASC works by referral only for individuals in Illinois’ criminal justice, corrections, juvenile justice, child welfare and public aid systems.

Telephone: (815) 965-1106

Web site: tasc.org