Orange County's top health official said Monday that his department is increasing its emphasis on preventing drug abuse among young people, as the grand jury suggested, but other officials said more money is needed to do the job.
In a report presented to county supervisors Friday and officially released Monday, the grand jury said educational programs aimed at preventing drug and alcohol abuse in Orange County "are fragmented and lack coordination and funding."
The grand jurors suggested that the supervisors establish a task force of 12 "high-level elected officials" to come up with a countywide plan for educational programs, set priorities for needed programs and identify sources of funding.
Emphasis on Rehabilitation
The jurors also said the county "traditionally has placed major emphasis on rehabilitation programs but has not made a significant commitment to prevention" by spending money for programs and staff.
Tom Uram, director of the county Health Care Agency, said a shift toward emphasizing prevention over rehabilitation "was already under way" before the grand jury report.
But, Uram said, some of the agency's advisory groups do not want a cutback in drug treatment and rehabilitation programs. He said he hopes that there will be enough state and federal funds to provide both prevention and treatment programs.
Uram also noted the difficulty of coordinating drug programs among the county, autonomous school districts, individual police departments in 26 cities and private groups. His concerns were echoed by others.
County Board of Education members "hold their territorial imperative, as do the cities, as do we (supervisors)," commented Supervisor Harriett M. Wieder. She said she is happy to see the grand jury acknowledge that Orange County was receiving less than other counties per capita for drug abuse programs.
"It's nice to suggest having more boards and commissions," said Supervisor Don R. Roth, "but you could add a hundred people to boards and commissions, and unless you had the financial resources to go along with it, I don't think you're doing anything.
"Here we are today trying to figure out how to make up a shortfall of millions of dollars (in next year's county budget) without having to lay off a tremendous amount of people, and they want us to get involved in increased programs with no indication that we are going to get any additional state or federal funding to add to existing programs."
Money was also a concern of Gilbert T. Martinez, assistant superintendent in the county Education Department. He took issue with the grand jury's assertion that in the current year the department budgeted only $173,000 of its $12.9-million instructional budget directly on substance abuse prevention and education services.
Martinez said the bulk of the budget must be spent on programs required by the state, with only $1.3 million eligible for discretionary spending by the county department. He said that when salaries and other indirect costs are figured in, the spending on drug abuse education programs comes to about $379,000.
William L. Edelman, who runs the drug abuse programs in the Health Care Agency, disputed another grand jury assertion: that the county had identified only four programs it wanted but had no funds for, while San Diego County had identified 35 programs.
The grand jury said Orange County reported needing $647,000 for the four programs; Edelman said the county actually claimed it needed $4 million for a large number of drug abuse prevention programs.