Funds restored for drug, alcohol program

Action follows reports that many offenders were skipping required counseling

Posted: Sunday, August 24, 2003

KENAI - The state has restored funding for a Kenai Peninsula program that monitored court-ordered drug and alcohol treatment after reports that many offenders were skipping required counseling.

The state will restart the Alcohol Safety Action Program with an $80,000 grant, enough to keep it running for the next 10 months, said Bill Hogan, director of the state Division of Behavioral Health.

About $355,000 of the state funding for ASAP, which was about $1.5 million last fiscal year, was vetoed by Gov. Frank Murkowski, officials said in June. As a result, ASAP programs in Dillingham, Bethel, Seward, Kenai and Kodiak were eliminated. They served a combined 1,450 clients a year, said state ASAP manager Ronald Taylor. The state's five other grantees - in Juneau, Fairbanks, Ketchikan, Kotzebue and Mat-Su - were cut by at least half, he said.

Within weeks of the funding cut, counseling services began reporting a high rate of no-shows among people ordered by courts to comply with counseling recommendations as part of their sentences.

Cook Inlet Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse Director Henry Novak said nine out of 10 people expected to attend counseling sessions in Kenai had canceled or not shown up within a few weeks of the loss of funding. That's about 40 people, he said.

The local Alaska Safety Action Program had been funded by a $100,000 state grant that paid Akeela Treatment Services of Anchorage to act as a liaison between courts and peninsula-based counseling service providers.

Hogan said funding was restored because of news articles that alerted state officials to the problems. The issue rose to the level of the governor, he said.

The division had little time to make its original veto recommendations, Hogan said. In most rural communities, the Alcohol Safety Action Program acted as a liaison between just one court and one counseling service provider. Hogan saw little rationale for a liaison under those circumstances.

"What I discovered on the Kenai is that there are at least three courts and seven providers," Hogan said. "It became pretty apparent we needed liaison or go-between functions on the peninsula. We looked for the money within our division and came up with the dollars to reinstate it."

Novak said he was pleased with the decision to restore the program.

There remain many people who are not attending required counseling, Novak said, and predicted the courts will have a glut of noncompliant defendants to deal with.

"It will be a bit unwieldy, but we are glad to have the program back," Novak said.

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