Federal Spending Data on Drug Treatment ‘Overstated’
Three federal agencies may have "overstated" and fabricated data about their spending for drug treatment and drug law enforcement efforts, according to a new RAND Corporation study. The Boston Globe reports that the study analyzed 10 agencies that report their drug budgets to the Office of National Drug Policy and found that "'flawed' reporting techniques made it almost impossible to know how much money was actually spent" fighting drug use. The report called the data submitted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration "a collection of arbitrary assumptions and rules," while 1998 figures from the Health Care Financing Administration "are taken from a 1983 study." While the report made no allegations of misspending, it pointed out several agencies that did not accurately report their budget allocations. Drug treatment spending was the "most politically sensitive aspect" of the study, the Globe reports. While the Office of National Drug Policy reported that U.S. agencies spent $2.8 billion on drug treatment in 1998, the RAND report estimates the spending to be "closer to $1.8 billion," or 36% less than reported.
The "largest discrepancy" was traced to the Department of Veterans Affairs, which reported spending $407 million in "specialized care" for drug addicts and $1.1 billion overall for "medical care" for substance abusers in 1998. The RAND study, however, says that the agency spent $363 million on specialized care for drug addicts and $710 million on related treatment for individuals with drug problems. Patrick Murphy, one of the study's authors, added that the agency included in its spending data money that went toward non-drug-related medical care for substance abusers. Murphy said, "If people are serious about spending money on drug treatment, they are going to have to look at the level of services they have been providing, and it's much less than they had thought."
Several lawmakers were "upset" at RAND's findings. "Before we ask for more drug-control money, we ought to be sure where it's going," Rep. John Tierney (D-Mass.) said. Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said, "We are going to have much stronger oversight to make sure that money is being spent in a cost-effective way to face the demand" (Donnelly, Boston Globe, 1/24). To view a copy of the RAND study, go to