National drug control director William J. Bennett, under fire from congressional Democrats for not providing enough treatment programs for drug abusers, yesterday issued a "white paper" on the issue that rejects "treatment on demand" as a national goal.
The study concludes that "treatment works" in getting addicts off drugs -- a position that some administration officials have been ambivalent about in the past. But it says there must be increased funding for programs that make tough demands on addicts rather than simply providing enough beds to take care of everyone who wants treatment right away.
Administration critics have charged that treatment programs in many cities are inundated by applicants, forcing some abusers to wait for several weeks or longer before they can get in. At a Senate Finance Committee hearing yesterday, Comptroller General Charles A. Bowsher testified that the spiraling number of "drug-exposed" babies being born every year was being exacerbated by a "serious shortage" of treatment programs for pregnant women.
But Bennett's white paper states that the "waiting lists" for many treatment programs "tend to be soft" because many abusers impulsively sign up for treatment one day and then drop out the next. "It is not reasonable to ask the taxpayers to support a system that is governed by the whims and caprice of people who do drugs," said Bennett when asked about providing enough programs to achieve "treatment on demand."
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), who has frequently criticized the administration for not spending more for treatment, said he was "encouraged" by the report because it recognized that treatment works. But a leading treatment specialist charged that the rejection of "treatment on demand" displayed a harsh, punitive attitude toward drug abusers.
"Do we put up signs in hospital emergency rooms saying 'all heart attack victims go home and sign up for treatment?' " asked James Halikas, director of the University of Minnesota chemical dependency unit. "You can't plan a heart attack and you can't plan being addicted. This makes the false assumption that addictive behavior is voluntary."