The Idaho Office of Drug Policy (ODP) is requesting more than $600,000 from the Idaho Millennium Fund to assist with a statewide advertising campaign warning about prescription drug abuse. But some question if that is a proper use of fund money.
According to the website of the Idaho state treasurer’s office, the fund was established as an endowment fund “to receive, invest, and disburse funds that the State of Idaho is receiving as a result of the master settlement agreement reached with tobacco companies.”
The master settlement agreement was a class-action lawsuit that emerged in the 1990s in which states sued tobacco companies for marketing their products to under-age minors. The states prevailed in the suit, and each year they receive money from this ruling. The money is specifically intended to be used to assist in preventing underage tobacco use, and to help educate citizens about the dangers associated with tobacco use.
But if revenues in the fund are intended to be used to educate about the dangers of tobacco use, is it in keeping with the law to spend the funds to educate about prescription drug abuse?
“I’d prefer that millennium funds be spent on their intended purpose,” Rep. Erik Simpson, R-Idaho Falls, told IdahoReporter.com. Simpson, who did not seek re-election and will not be in Boise as a legislator for the 2013 session, added, “When you arbitrarily expand the original purpose of a fund like this, then you have to wonder what is next.”
Elisha Figueroa, director of ODP, sees it differently. “I don’t know what the treasurer’s office has on their website,” she told IdahoReporter.com, “but the application form that their office supplied us allows for millennium funds to be spent on smoking cessation programs and drug abuse programs. According to their application, we are well within the parameters to request millennium funds.”
Figueroa added that “One of the strategies this group (ODP) would like to implement is a statewide media campaign.” The agency has already spent $6,830 producing a video featuring Gov. Butch Otter warning about prescription drug abuse (see the video HERE).
“I question whether governmental campaigns against drug abuse are effective, given the epidemic of substance abuse we have in the U.S.” noted Rep. Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise. “I think many people question this as I do, but there also seems to be a feeling that ‘we have to do something,’ and that ‘doing something’ is better than doing nothing. We need more evidence that expenditures like these are effective.”
One person who apparently does not need convincing of the value of substance abuse programs and ODP’s role is Otter. “It’s a program that the governor believes in very strongly,” said Otter spokesperson Jon Hanian. “After he became governor, he proposed that the agency be set up and that they get to work on the meth education project, because he saw how meth addiction was hurting families, straining jails and disrupting schools.”
Figueroa said her agency is also pursuing an additional $414,302 in “matching funds” (funds from both private organizations and city governments) to bolster the prescription drug ad campaign, bringing the total potential expenditure to more than a million dollars.
While the matching funds are separate from state government funds, the agency’s request for millennium funds will need to be approved by the Legislature during its 2013 session.
Established in 2007, the ODP’s stated mission is to lead “Idaho’s substance abuse policy and prevention efforts by developing and implementing strategic action plans and collaborative partnerships to reduce drug use and related crime, thereby improving the health and safety of all Idahoans.”