Colorado Drug Abuse Statistics Again Point To Funding

Earlier in the week, the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) released statistics showing that Colorado teens were No. 1 in the nation for depression, along with ranking fourth for alcohol dependence and sixth for abuse of illegal drugs. The data should come as no surprise, since Colorado has ranked last in substance abuse prevention, treatment, and research spending. The state also continues to rank No. 1 in the United States for the percentage of rehabilitation facilities owned by private for-profit companies.

In November, Colorado Confidential reported on the condition of substance abuse rehabilitation services in the state, which often coincide with mental health issues:

The most recent figures from the National Survey of Substance Abuse Treatment Services, an annual survey conducted by the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) in 2005, show that 56 percent of Colorado’s 430 drug treatment facilities are private for-profit businesses, with the rest being managed by nonprofit and government entities.

The numbers are significantly different on the national level, with only 27 percent of all treatment facilities being for-profit.

One of the reasons for the contrast, Colorado advocates say, is the lack of state funding for substance abuse programs, particularly in the area of residential rehabilitation treatment, which provides patients with a place to live while receiving treatment.

“It’s a very underfunded system,” says Carmelita Muniz, director of the Colorado Association of Alcohol and Drug Service Providers, a group composed of the state’s treatment providers. “Residential is viewed as the most expensive … so you have very few opportunities for residential, especially for women and adolescents.”

Only 14 percent of Colorado treatment centers offer residential care, according to the SAMHSA survey. The number is 28 percent nationally.

Muniz also points to a 2001 study commissioned by The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, where Colorado ranked last out of 47 responding states for substance abuse prevention, treatment and research spending. According to the report, at the time the state dedicated .008 percent of its budget to treatment, which is approximately $548,000. The highest-spending state was New York with 1.044 percent of its state budget, or $503.8 million.

“This is the most underfunded system in the nation, so when you look at how much money we invest in it and how big the problem is, yeah, you have a lot of [organizations] that are for-profit,” Muniz says.

New data released by SAMHSA for 2006 also shows that the number of for-profit rehabilitation facilities has not wavered, and Colorado substance abuse services continue to be the most privatized in the country.

Erin Rosa was born in Spain and raised in Colorado Springs. She is a freelance writer currently living in Denver. Rosa's work has been featured in a variety of news outlets including the Huffington Post, Democracy Now!, and the Rocky Mountain Chronicle, an alternative-weekly in Northern Colorado where she worked as a columnist covering the state legislature. Rosa has received awards from the Society of Professional Journalists for her reporting on lobbying and woman's health issues. She was also tapped with a rare honorable mention award by the Newspaper Guild-CWA's David S. Barr Award in 2008--only the second such honor conferred in its nine-year history--for her investigative series covering the federal government's Supermax prison in the state. Rosa covers the labor community, corrections, immigration and government transparency matters. She can be reached at

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