Substance abuse treatment costs county $35,000 in three months

Published: Monday, Oct. 8, 2012 11:30 a.m. CDT

In just three months, the $35,000 Union County budgeted this fiscal year for court-ordered substance abuse treatment has already been used.

Monday, County Auditor Sandy Hysell was forced to move an additional $35,000 from the general-basic fund to the substance-abuse fund. Hysell said substance-abuse budgeting is very difficult because the amount of money expended on the line item varies so much from year to year.

“We spent $45,000 all of last year, but the year before we spent $80,000,” Hysell said. “It’s very difficult to estimate how much we will spend each year, because it fluctuates so much.”

The county has already paid for more than 20 court-ordered, substance-abuse treatments this fiscal year. To receive county-paid treatment, two or more people must be willing to committ the substance user, and it’s preferred one of those members is a medical or psychological professional.

Then, a judge grants or denies the treatment.

Tim Kenyon, county attorney, said about one substance abuse case per week is normal, but this fall has been pretty busy including a heavy workload of five cases just last week alone.

“We’ve had pretty good numbers so far this year,” Kenyon said. “We happen to be a center for services in Creston and because of that we often get committals from people outside of Union County.”

Kenyon said the most common substance-abuse treatments are for users of methamphetamine, alcohol and prescription drugs. The most common age range for users is young adults between 20 and 30 years of age.

In terms of cost, Kenyon said each substance abuse treatment is first sent to the patient’s health insurance provider or to a government assistance program like Medicaid.

However, in most cases, the patient does not have health insurance nor government assistance, meaning the county, per Iowa Code, must pay for the treatment in full. The average cost per patient this year for treatment has been about $1,400.

“The reason it’s so expensive is first, there is a transport process, because we can’t tell them to drive to Atlantic, Council Bluffs or Des Moines when they are committed, which sometimes can be at 2 a.m. on a Sunday morning,” Kenyon said. “We don’t have a facility to help them in Creston, so we have to find them a bed in one of those inpatient facilities. There is time and travel involved for transport, an evaluation, a stay in the facility for a minimum of two days, then we transport the person back here and appoint them an attorney for a hearing. It’s an expensive deal.”

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