As we enter the 1990s drug abuse has once again become a major health concern, and for the first time the drug treatment field has had to address many of the policy, regulation, and planning issues resulting from cost inflation that have become commonplace in other parts of the health care field. To avoid serious errors and confusion, drug abuse health policies must recognize the very different needs of the public and private sectors. The public sector, where poor addicts receive drug treatment provided or purchased by the government, has long suffered from chronically inadequate funding. Although responses to several epidemics (heroin, crack, and AIDS) have produced periods of increased allocations for drug abuse treatment, more often than not long waiting lists at programs have rationed treatment to lower-income addicts seeking care. Low salary levels have limited the quality of public treatment services, and the absence of resources has hindered the development of programs that respond to new technical developments and drug abuse problems, such as the crack epidemic. Despite severe resource shortages, the public drug treatment system has sometimes used resources inefficiently, with little attention to appropriateness of admissions, lengths of stay, ambulatory treatment modalities, or varying levels of care. Public sector goals for the 1990s should include filling current shortages in drug treatment services, developing adequate long-term funding for treating addicts who lack third-party coverage, modernizing the treatment system, developing new patterns of practice that use existing resources more efficiently, and developing a plan for treating intravenous drug users infected with the AIDS virus. In the private sector, the advent of working- and middle-class demand for drug treatment in the 1970s and 1980s has produced a new drug treatment system that suffers from many of the policy problems common to the rest of health care. Drug abuse in the workplace has resulted in much wider coverage of substance abuse services by insurance companies and HMOs. The availability of third-party funds has spawned a for-profit chemical dependency treatment industry. The high cost of private residential treatment services has caused significant cost inflation. Cost-containment measures, which are a new phenomenon for this field and are inappropriate for the public sector, have led to the same confusion and debates that they have produced in other areas of health care. Policy and regulatory goals for the
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Research Article| April 01 1990
Health Care Policy Issues in the Drug Abuser Treatment Field
William E. McAuliffe
J Health Polit Policy Law (1990) 15 (2): 357–385.
William E. McAuliffe; Health Care Policy Issues in the Drug Abuser Treatment Field. J Health Polit Policy Law 1 April 1990; 15 (2): 357–385. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/03616878-15-2-357
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