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Substance abuse services valued low in public survey

May 27, 2009
by Gary A. Enos, Editor
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Services ranked tied for bottom among respondents’ priorities

Addiction field professionals and advocates who accuse policy-makers of undervaluing substance use treatment services need to consider that these policy actions might also be reflecting broader public sentiment.

A study released this month by Spectrum, a Washington, D.C.-based health and science communications company, placed substance abuse services consistently at or near the bottom of comparative ratings offered by more than 2,000 individuals questioned by a research firm.

In perhaps the most jarring finding for the field, substance abuse services and mental retardation services ranked tied for dead last among 27 health services when the consumers were asked to rate the overall importance of the services. Respondents rated physician services, medical services at a hospital and emergency care services as the most important services. Mental health services ranked 23rd out of the 27 services evaluated for their importance.

The group’s responses also placed substance abuse services 22nd in regard to the question of whether the individuals ever had used the various services compared in the study. The three services that were rated most important were also the fourth, fifth and sixth highest on the list of ever-used services.

These findings likely could help shape a number of talking points for addiction field advocates—an effort that might be needed given that the results are being interpreted as something of a priority list for consumers as health care reform discussions intensify.

“Health reformers cannot afford to overlook how everyday constituents, when faced with difficult tradeoffs, place a relative value on health services and products as they would spend their own money,” says John J. Seng, Spectrum’s president and CEO.

When asked for an overall rating of the various health services, the survey respondents did place substance abuse services somewhat higher; their position in a tie for 17th placed them ahead of home health services, mental health services and care for the elderly, among other services.

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