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Published: Thursday, 3/31/2005

New approach on addiction

LUCAS County voters have in the past strongly supported human-service levies, but three times in recent years they've stated their limits, rejecting tax proposals for the Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services Board, apparently because some voters see this as bailing out individuals who have brought their addictions upon themselves.

Lucas County Commissioner Pete Gerken has persuaded the ADAS board and the county's mental health board to study the feasibility of merging the two agencies to provide greater efficiency and, at a time of budget stringency, to provide badly needed services to more clients.

Such an arrangement, of course, might be expected to help ADAS, given its struggles to win voter support, and could conceivably hurt the mental health board, whose levies are generally approved.

Mergers of government agencies do not always improve the situation, and many voters fail to differentiate between problems of mental illness and those caused by or aggravated by alcohol and drug addiction. The best way out for the latter, they figure, is simply to "just say no."

Abstinence programs do have their uses. It has been estimated, for example, that the numbers of babies born with mental disabilities could be cut by 50 percent if mothers-to-be refrained from use of alcohol, the most commonly abused substance, during pregnancies.

Moral judgments, however well intentioned, do not by themselves prevent substance abuse. Sooner or later the taxpayers must pay for this societal problem, whether they attempt to meet it head on by providing preventive and clinical services or simply defer the expense to society until such time as addicts have to be warehoused at public expense.

The Blade has supported passage of tax levies to provide services to those suffering from alcohol and drug addiction, but Lucas County voters have rejected them each time, in sharp contrast to the support they have given other social-service levies on the ballot.

Perhaps the county commissioners should consider combining social-services agencies under one umbrella, at least for the purpose of tax levy proposals, as other communities have done. This idea could be examined in a feasibility study that includes both public and private agencies as well as community-minded individuals who are able to look beyond parochial outlooks and turf-protection considerations of public agencies.

In any case, moralizing on this subject does not in any way assist in the care and treatment of people disabled by drug or alcohol abuse. A compassionate society cannot help but respond to the needs of all its citizens even if they contribute in some fashion to their own tragedies. It's just one of those societal values so often preached by the new breed of politicos whose actions are so at variance with their pious rhetoric.



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