Canton Repository

July 16, 2003

DeWine, Mrs. Taft at odds with Bush

By PAUL M. KRAWZAK
Copley Washington correspondent

WASHINGTON — When it comes to spending money on substance-abuse prevention services, Sen. Mike DeWine and Ohio first lady Hope Taft don’t see eye to eye with President Bush.

DeWine and Taft favor increased spending on what they say are increasingly effective programs that dissuade young people from abusing drugs and alcohol. Bush has requested cuts in prevention spending since he became president.

All three are Republicans.

As he chaired a hearing on substance-abuse and mental-health services Tuesday, DeWine pointedly questioned a top administration official over the White House’s position on financing prevention.

“I’m troubled the administration over the last few years has requested less funding for prevention programs,” said DeWine, who chairs a Health, Education, Labor and Pensions subcommittee. “What’s going on here?”

The administration asked for $148 million for prevention in its latest budget request, down from $197 million that Congress approved last year. DeWine called the hearing to begin the process of reauthorizing funding for the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Charles G. Curie, administrator of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, told DeWine the agency is attempting to make sure dollars are spent only on programs that work.

“I believe now we are postured to have confidence in terms of requesting new funding. We are postured to make sure we know what works,” he said.

He stopped well short of any commitment by the administration to seek increases in prevention money in the future.

The federal government provides guidance and funding to states and community-based organizations to conduct prevention programs.

Among a panel of experts that testified before the committee, Taft said prevention has been “underutilized, regarding both funding and emphasis, and thus not reached its potential, relative to its importance and effectiveness in reducing drug and alcohol use and their related human and societal costs.”

Taft worked as a state-certified prevention specialist before her husband, Bob Taft, was elected governor.

Prevention programs, financed by federal block grants, have become increasingly sophisticated, and there is proof they work, Taft said.

Between 1993 and 2000, she said, marijuana use dropped by 41 percent among teenagers in parts of the Cincinnati area with prevention programs. In nearby communities that lacked those programs, marijuana use increased by 33 percent, she said.

Although she supports increased federal funds for prevention, Taft declined to criticize Bush for proposing reduced spending.

Noting that the president has sought increased funding for substance-abuse treatment, she said, “I’m hoping that he will come to the realization that ... prevention needs to be funded so you can reduce the number of people who need treatment.”

DeWine reiterated his disagreement with the administration after the hearing.

“We should have increased funding for prevention,” he said. “I think it’s a mistake to decrease prevention funding.”

While seeking to reduce spending on prevention, Bush has steered additional dollars to substance-abuse treatment. He has proposed $3.4 billion in total spending on substance-abuse treatment and prevention, and mental-health services for next year, up from $3.1 billion this year.