Two years ago, President Reagan signed into law a bill he called a major victory in the war on drugs, but new federal data show that thus far, local governments have spent only 42 percent of the $547 million Congress provided for the fight against domestic narcotics use.
Much of the delay is due to disputes between state and local officials over the size and use of the block grants provided under the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of October 1986.Fortunately, say Utah officials, the Beehive State has not experienced many of the difficulties that some states have run into with the grant program.
When Reagan signed the drug bill Oct. 27, 1986, shortly before Election Day, the nation was intensely concerned about a crack epidemic, particularly after the cocaine-related deaths of basketball star Len Bias and pro football player Don Rogers. Money was appropriated for prevention, education, treatment and law enforcement.
But the latest figures from the federal Justice, Health and Human Services and Education departments, which administer the funds, show that only $228 million of the fiscal 1987 grants that were to go through the states to local entities have been spent.
Delays have been especially long in several large cities, where officials say their problems are unusually complex and where funding has bogged down in disputes between state and local agencies.
For example, Los Angeles, trying to cope with youth gangs involved in drug-trafficking and deadly turf wars, has been able to spend only $200,000 of $1.3 million in enforcement funds, city data shows.
Donald Ian MacDonald, the president's special assistant for drug policy, expressed concern about the delays and said he believed all the money should have been spent "well before" October 1987. He blamed the states and localities for "not doing as well as we would have liked."
"We broke our backs getting the money out," he told UPI.
Federal officials did move quickly to get the money out to the states, said John D. Walch, program specialist for the Utah Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice, which administered the law enforcement portion of the money Utah received.
But he said MacDonald's expectation that the money would be spent by October 1987 was unrealistic. The law enforcement funds didn't even become available to the states until the spring of 1987. Then the states had to gather extensive data, design a state strategy, get it approved by the Legislature and, in Utah's case, by the Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice, before competitive bids from local agencies could even be accepted.
Walch said law enforcement grants flowed more slowly than the funds for education, prevention and treatment, because most of those other funds were simply passed through by the states to the local agencies.
Only about 35 percent of Utah's $1.5 million first-year grant for law enforcement has been spent, in comparison with 73 percent of the $1.2 million in treatment funds and 70 percent of the $426,000 that went to the governor's office for prevention and education programs.
Figures were not immediately available on how much has been spent of the $995,000 that went to the State Office of Education, but Mary Lou Bozich, that office's specialist for substance abuse prevention programs, said almost all of it has been distributed to the school districts, and they should finish spending it this December. It became available to the state July 1, 1987, and went out to districts early last school year.
Bozich said much of the money has gone to programs targeted at high-risk students, such as children of alcoholics and drug addicts and students who have already experimented with drugs.
She said what is needed now is more federal funding and emphasis on evaluating effective prevention strategies. She said she is pleased that Congress is addressing those concerns as it writes a new omnibus drug bill.
Gene Berry, supervisor of educational support services for the Salt Lake School District, said Utah was able to get its money distributed more quickly than some other states because it already had good communication among the various agencies involved in drug prevention and education. She said many states are just beginning to form networks and coalitions among their agencies.
Walch said the bulk of the law enforcement money went to create or strengthen drug task forces around the state. Part was spent to establish a program to discourage drug smuggling by air in rural areas, and some went to upgrade equipment at the State Crime Lab.
State Social Services Director Norm Angus said his department received the treatment money from the federal government on Feb. 2, 1987, and got it out to the counties by about May 1. "We basically pass it through to the county organizations."
The money has been "fantastically important," he said. "We've dumped most of this into youth treatment." In the past, young drug users have usually been treated in the same programs provided to adults, "and it hasn't worked too well. You need to approach them differently."
Orin Johanson, social worker at West High School in Salt Lake City, said the money the Salt Lake School District received for education and prevention was used to update curriculum materials, expand existing programs and establish a new program for high school students who have been through drug and alcohol treatment and need help returning to school.
"Whatever delay there was back East, we have not had it here," he said.
Jose E. Martinez, executive director of the Institute of Human Resource Development, a private provider that got $43,000 the first year to expand an existing home-based, family-oriented counseling program for high-risk youths, said the money was a little slow in coming.
But the institute received its funds in October 1987 and will have all of the money spent by Sept. 30. The institute is competing for a second-year grant to continue the program.