A group formed by the Legislature to lead the state's war against drugs wants nearly $3.5 million for the fight, most of it from a 3 1/2-cent increase on the tax on a pack of cigarettes.
"These kinds of programs are expensive. They do cost money. But it is money well spent and invested in the future of our state," said John T. Nielsen, chairman of the Utah Substance Abuse Coordinating Council.Nielsen, who served as the state's commissioner of public safety before joining an area law firm, said Utah is making progress in the battle against drugs.
"The drug abuse problem in Utah is not increasing substantially, if at all," Nielsen said, crediting the effects of treatment and prevention programs. "That's not to say we still don't have a problem."
Doug Bodrero, current state commissioner of public safety, said while fewer large shipments of cocaine and other illegal drugs are being intercepted, there is more heroin coming into the state.
"Cocaine is the drug of celebration. Heroin is the drug of desperation," Bodrero said. He said national problems, including a looming recession and the crisis in the Middle East, may be fueling Utahns' appetite for heroin.
The biggest expense in the council's battle plan, which was presented to Gov. Norm Bangerter Monday, is $2.5 million to increase the number of youth who can be treated for substance abuse.
Local drug-treatment programs paid for through the state are available for about 750 young people. Boosting the $1.4 million budget by $2.5 million will provide treatment for an additional 1,000.
The money would come from an increase in the state tax on cigarettes. The council proposes adding 3 1/2 cents on top of the 23 cents Utah now charges in taxes on a pack of 20 cigarettes.
There are as many as 16,000 young Utahns who need substance-abuse treatment, according to Harold Morrill, director of human service for Weber County and chairman of the council's subcommittee on treatment.
Other expenses in the council report include nearly $500,000 to expand programs aimed at preventing substance abuse among college and university students, and almost $450,000 to compile information on drug trafficking.
Nielson could not place a price tag on how much the state is now spending to fight drugs and other substance-abuse problems but said the amount "is in the millions."
The council was created by the Legislature to help eliminate duplication and competition among agencies involved with substance-abuse prevention, treatment and law enforcement.
Agencies are still likely to request additional funds for drug-related activities. For example, the Department of Public Safety is asking for an additional 33 Utah Highway Patrol troopers.
Bodrero said the chief justification for his request is the need to increase the number of troopers patrolling state highways after midnight. Now, there are only two troopers on duty statewide during the early morning hours.