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Admissions to Treatment Programs Jump Since Approval of 2000 Ballot Measure

UCLA study tracks drug offenders who received help, rather than jail time, after voters passed Proposition 36.

October 14, 2003|Don Thompson | Associated Press Writer

SACRAMENTO — Admissions to treatment programs in five major California counties have climbed sharply since voters decided three years ago that first-time nonviolent drug offenders should not go to prison, according to a tracking study that was to be released today.

Drug programs are having difficulty treating offenders with multiple or severe problems, the UCLA study found.

The five-year study, now in its first year, was published in the journal Evaluation Review. It does not draw conclusions about the success of treatment programs in preventing future crime or drug abuse.

The goal of the study, funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, is to identify how best to treat offenders who would have been sent to prison or jail had voters not approved Proposition 36 in November 2000.

The initiative took effect in July 2001.

Since then, admissions to drug treatment programs jumped 27% in Kern County, 21% in Riverside County, 17% in Sacramento County and 16% in San Diego County.

The only county without an increase was San Francisco, which had an extensive diversion program and prosecution policy before the statewide initiative.

Most of the abusers went to outpatient programs.

Counties had less success in treating patients with severe addictions, whose abuse was complicated by mental illness or disability, or who were homeless, according to the study by researchers at UCLA's Neuropsychiatric Institute.

Still, counties' progress in implementing the voter mandate, and the creative strategies they are using, are "encouraging," the study's lead author, Yih-Ing Hser, said in a prepared statement.

Hser is an investigator with the Institute's Integrated Substance Abuse Programs.

The study found that those diverted from the criminal justice system into treatment programs tended to be male first-time offenders with full-time jobs. Most used methamphetamine and marijuana, while heroin users and injection-drug users were less likely to participate in treatment programs.

The study found significant variation in how counties are complying with the voter mandate.

San Francisco requires no urine tests. At the other extreme, Sacramento County has random urine testing both by treatment programs and its probation department. The other three counties leave it up to treatment programs to do testing.

The counties also vary on providing methadone treatment for patients.

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