Counties Leave Substance Abuse Funding Unused


ANNAPOLIS (Oct. 9, 2008)—Hundreds of thousands of dollars allocated by the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Administration to individual counties for drug treatment and prevention went unused last year, officials from Maryland's Department of Legislative Services told a Senate committee Wednesday.

In 2007, $3.4 million for these programs was left unspent statewide. The amount of unspent funds has risen since 2005 when $2 million was left over.

While some jurisdictions use all of their funding, Baltimore, Baltimore County and Prince George's County accounted for the majority of the unused resources, leaving between $640,000 and $770,000 each last year.

But Prince George's and Baltimore counties should be offering services to more than 3,700 additional patients combined, according to an assessment ordered by the legislature last year.

The state spends more than $135 million on substance abuse programs, but explaining how each county is awarded a percentage of that total in the first place proved difficult.

Members of the Senate Special Committee on Substance Abuse were visibly disconcerted learning about the process for funding distribution.

"The biggest factor is jurisdictions get what they get because they've always gotten it. That's the most important reason for how funding is allocated at the local level," said Simon Powell, principal policy analyst at the Department of Legislative Services.

Baltimore and Prince George's County were two of the three areas with the largest funding surpluses. They are also the two best funded jurisdictions in the state, receiving nearly $50 million and $12 million for their programs respectively.

Funds that aren't utilized get reallocated to other jurisdictions throughout the year. Powell said that surprisingly the counties losing money don't mind because it currently doesn't affect their subsequent budget allocations.

While it hasn't happened in some time, if funds aren't utilized they could also be reverted back to the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene's general fund, a likely prospect for the 2008 fiscal year.

"That's not good for substance abuse treatment needs in the state," Powell said.

Powell called the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Administration's allocation methods "antiquated" and said that discovering why so much funding is going unused is imperative. While Powell said Prince George's County blames a hiring freeze for its surplus funds, other counties simply don't have a good handle on the actual flow of funding.

In a surprise to some committee members, Dr. William McAuliffe, who directed the assessment ordered by the legislature, found that next to Baltimore, the highest need for substance abuse services is on Maryland's lower eastern shore in Worcester and Dorchester counties.

Sen. Douglas Peters, D-Prince George's, questioned whether Worcester County's needs were a result of the area's considerable vacation season. He argued many treated in the county may not be Marylanders.

But substance abuse treatment admissions rates correlated to substance abuse mortality rates in the county, McAuliffe said, suggesting that county residents are actually the ones in need.

McAuliffe said the lesson was still the same: "It does happen, and people do get treated there."

Capital News Service contributed to this report.

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