Drug abuse remains one of the top five costliest health problems in the United States. Most of the money invested in combating alcohol and drug abuse goes toward responding to the consequences of these societal problems.

Only 2 percent goes to prevention, according to a report from the National Center for Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University.

The study also found that 96 percent of the $467.7 billion that federal, state and local governments spend on substance abuse is used to deal with the public effects, including crime and homelessness.

Health care costs associated with substance abuse receive the largest percentage (58). Governments spend the second largest percentage (13.1) on costs of prosecuting and jailing offenders.

In a related study from the United States Office of Drug Control Policy, more than half of the men arrested in nine selected cities tested “positive” for drugs. The only exception to this finding was Washington, D.C. with 48.6 percent, which experienced an almost 30 percent decrease between 2007 and 2008.

Most of the cities, Atlanta, Chicago, Denver, Indianapolis, Minneapolis, New York, Portland (Oregon) and Sacramento, either remained the same or decreased in percentages of positively testing men arrested.

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Only Charlotte increased, and then only by a fraction of a percent (0.2).

These data point to the opportunity to implement prevention programs and perhaps eliminate at least some of the crime that is perpetrated on the urban public. In fact, when we look at the cost effectiveness of prevention versus treatment, the solution is obvious.

The founder and chairman of NCASA, former U.S. Drug Czar Joseph Califano, said it well: To reduce the amount spent on drug abuse, the government needs to “mount major prevention programs with a focus on kids.”

However, Califano also said that the main reason that governments have these backward priorities is that there is a stigma attached to drug and alcohol addiction.

Our forecast is that world governments, especially the new administration in Washington, will choose to invest more on prevention. With the growing need to economize in every way, it just makes sense. Hopefully, treatment programs will not suffer.

From The Herman Trend Alert, by Joyce Gioia, strategic business futurist. www.hermangroup.com