Sunday, January 2, 2011

US FL: Editorial: Addiction To Bureaucracy

Gov.-elect Rick Scott has trimmed a cuticle on the body of Florida's state government.  But judging by the reaction it has received, you would think he had hacked off an arm.

Before Christmas, Scott announced he would abolish the Office of Drug Control and fold its duties into the departments of Health and Law Enforcement.  The loss to Florida: four staffers and $500,000.

Given the fact that the state is facing a budget shortfall of nearly $3 billion in 2011, the savings are minuscule.  But critics say the impact on drug abuse will be enormously negative.

"We've got a heck of a problem in this state with drugs.  And it's not going to be over any time soon," Office Director Bruce Grant told the Miami Herald.  "What you're saying by getting rid of this office is that's not a priority.  And that's a mistake.  Because it is a priority."

State Sen.  Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, said the office was critical to his efforts to get a prescription drug monitoring bill passed.

"This state must have an entity that does nothing but focus on solving this crisis," he told the Herald.

The St.  Petersburg Times featured a mother whose 26-year-old son was severely addicted to Vicodin and Oxycontin.  Five years ago, he overdosed twice, went to jail and came out clean a year later.  Since then Lynn Locascio has worked with other parents, drug abuse agencies and the Office of Drug Control to bring awareness to the prescription drug problem.
"We are the pill capital of the U.S., and this jerk comes in and snaps his fingers and dumps the program we need?" said Locascio, who said she voted for Scott.

The reactions show the challenges elected officials at the state and federal levels face in pruning back government in the face of massive budget deficits.  Every government program, no matter how small, has a constituency that will attest to its necessity.  Every proposed cut will elicit shrieks of doom and despair.

The Office of Drug Control, created in 1999 by then-Gov.  Jeb Bush, surveys Florida school children on their drug and alcohol habits, provides guidance on drug policy, coordinates work among state agencies to address substance abuse issues and advises the governor on seaport security as it relates to drug smuggling.

Those responsibilities won't vanish.  They are simply being farmed out to other agencies.  But because there won't be a bureaucracy specifically entitled to address a problem, it shows the state doesn't "care" or take it "seriously."

Is it any wonder that government grows like Topsy?

Does Sen.  Fasano really need a bureaucratic agency to help him pass legislation? Does Ms.  Locascio really need an office in Tallahassee to help her do her admirable work of warning of the dangers of addiction? Does the public really need government to "raise awareness" of issues?

The Office of Drug Control is a vestige of the failed War on Drugs.  Florida would be wise to do more than just end a bureaucracy.  It should change its laws to decriminalize certain drugs and shift the emphasis from interdicting supply to reducing demand.  Addiction should be a medical concern, not a law-enforcement issue.  Nor should it be an excuse to prop up a government office. 

Votes: 0
Pubdate: Wed, 29 Dec 2010
Source: News Herald (Panama City, FL)
Copyright: 2010 The News Herald

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