Substantial R.O.I. from Funding Recovery Programs


Melissa Killeen

“Most crucially, everyone must be aware of how logical and smart treatment is from a purely financial standpoint.” – Dr Richard Juman, president of the New York State Psychological Association

Can there be a substantial R.O.I. (return on investment) from government-funded recovery programs? How can funding recovery programs provide high returns on the funding investment when a new report from the CDC says opioid use is at epidemic proportions? When heroin deaths nearly quadrupled from 2000 to 2013? And the trend is worsening: heroin-related
deaths, grew a staggering 39.3% from 2012 to 2013. There were about 44,000 drug drug-addiction-9847058overdose deaths in the U.S. in 2013, more than 16,000 of them involving powerful prescription painkillers such as Vicodin and OxyContin. [i] Each day, 44 people in the United States die from overdose of prescription painkillers.[ii] How much funding can the government forecast to pump into this epidemic? Addressing the impact of substance use alone is estimated to cost hundreds of billions each year. Is there enough government money to make a dent? We have to, at least, try.

Substance abuse is costly to our nation, exacting over $600 billion annually in costs related to healthcare, lost work, lower productivity and crime. Research from the Massachusetts Opioid Task Force and Department of Public Health established that mental and substance use disorders are among the top conditions that result in significant costs to families, employers, and publicly funded health systems. In 2012, an estimated 23.1 million Americans aged 12 and older needed treatment for substance use. By 2020, mental and substance-use disorders will surpass all physical diseases as a major cause of disability worldwide. [iii]

In June 2006, the Washington State Institute for Public Policy, whose mission is to carry out practical, non-partisan research on issues of importance to Washington State, was directed by the Washington Legislature to estimate whether treatment for people with alcohol, drug, and mental health disorders offers economic advantages, or a R.O.I. (return on investment). By reviewing “what works,” literature, and estimating monetary value of benefits, they reached these conclusions:

  1. The average substance use treatment program can achieve roughly a 15 to 22 percent reduction in the incidence or severity of these disorders.
  2. Treatment of these disorders can achieve about $3.77 in benefits per dollar of treatment costs. This is equivalent to a 56 percent rate of return on investment.
  3. Estimated that a reasonably aggressive implementation policy could generate $1.5 billion in net benefits for people in Washington with $416 million in net taxpayer benefits, and the risk of losing money is small.[iv]

But still, state and federal legislators are hesitant to fund intervention, treatment, and recovery programs.

“Together we must challenge individuals, communities, cities, counties, regions, states, and the nation to be accountable for the outcomes of the justice systems at every level of government.”
— James Bell

Approximately one-quarter of those people held in U.S. prisons or jails have been convicted of a drug offense.[v] The United States incarcerates more people for drug offenses than any other country. With an estimated 6.8 million Americans struggling with drug abuse or dependence, the growth of the prison population continues to be driven largely by incarceration for drug offenses.[vi] Where does this spiral of incarceration instead of treatment stop?

For example, the average cost for a year of an offender treatment program is $5,000, whereas a year of imprisonment costs over $31,000, and far more in areas like New York City where the average annual cost per inmate was $167,731 in 2012. Court ordered addiction treatment programs can seriously reduce prison costs.[vii]

The Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency (PCCD) examined the return-on-investment for seven programs (e.g. Big Brothers and Big Sisters, Strengthening Families, and Multisystemic Therapy programs) that are supported by the state’s Commission and Department of Public Welfare. It was concluded that these programs represent a potential $317 million return to the Commonwealth in terms of reduced correctional costs, lessened welfare and social services burden, and increased employment and tax revenue. The researchers estimated that the programs produced returns of $1 to $25, for every dollar invested, and could generate cost savings as great as $130 million for a single program.[viii] Are these facts overlooked by legislators in state and federal government?

Maryland voters believe by a five-to-one margin that the drug problem is getting worse. The same poll showed that voters believe by a two-to-one margin that there are too many people in prison, and 86% of respondents favor judges having the option to order drug treatment rather than prison for some offenders. [ix] Have the voters spoken?

“Recovery with justice allows us to bury the ghosts of the past and to live with ourselves in the present.” William White

So in this election year, I urge you to contact your local state representatives, contact your state senators and congressmen/women and urge them to increase funding for substance-addiction treatment and implement reforms that will send addicts to treatment programs like Drug Court or COPS, (Office of Community Oriented Policing Services) versus prison.

William White just posted an excellent letter to our presidential candidates that outlines the impact opioid addiction has on individuals, families, and communities. White requests a policy statement by the candidates in the 2016 Presidential campaign. Copy this letter and send it to the candidates you support:

And remember:

There are 23 million people in long-term recovery, and we vote.


References used in this blog

[i] The American Association for the Treatment of Opioid Dependence (AATOD) March 18, 2015 10:51 AM, Accessed on August 23, 2015 at:

[ii] Understanding the Epidemic, Center for Disease Control, access on August 23, at:

[iii] Massachusetts Opioid Task Force and Department of Public Health Recommendations on Priorities for Investments in Prevention, Intervention, Treatment and Recovery,  Accessed August 23, 2015

[iv] Washington State Institute for Public Policy, accessed on August 23, 2015 at:

[v] Number of people in federal or state prison for drug offenses: Harrison, Paige, and Allen J. Beck. Prisoners in 2005. Washington, DC: Bureau of Justice Statistics. Estimate of jail inmates held on drug offense derived from James, Doris J. 2004. Profile of jail inmates, 2002. Washington, DC: Bureau of Justice Statistics.

[vi] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Office of Applied Studies. 2005 National Survey on Drug Use & Health: Detailed Tables. Table 5.1A Online at

[vii] The American Association for the Treatment of Opioid Dependence (AATOD)March 18, 2015 10:51 AM, Accessed on August 23, 2015 at:

[viii] EpisCenter, Penn State University, Cost-benefit Assessment of Pennsylvania’s Approach to Youth Crime Prevention Shows Dramatic Return on Investment access on August 23, 2015 at:

[ix] Justice accessed on August 23, 2015 at:

[ix] Maryland Voter Survey. (December, 2003). Bethesda, Maryland: Potomac Incorporated.

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