George Soros Big Treatment Gap PR Gambit

When George Soros announced his $10 million initiative to help close the nation’s yawning Treatment Gap, it was initially an effort to “help U.S. cities build comprehensive public drug treatment systems.” But, by the time in February that RFPs were requested, the well funded effort had morphed into a big PR spend, leading some to roll their eyes and ask why the money wasn’t being spent on much needed treatment itself. The answer, according to Victor Capoccia, who is heading up the initiative for Soros’s Open Society Institute, is that, while $10 million might seem like a lot of money, such a sum would not even make the merest dent in what is needed in terms of new treatment spending to close the Treatment Gap. And, indeed, Capoccia has a point.

Treatment Magazine estimates that perhaps as much as $25 billion was spent on treatment in 2007, and still SAMHSA estimates that in 2006 over 21 million people needed treatment but did not get it. Thus, Capoccia, who is formerly a top addiction executive at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation – and no doubt experienced deep frustration as he watched RWJF massively cut its formerly huge addiction spend – will preside over a Soros-backed initiative that seeks to create communications and advocacy initiatives designed to pry loose more funding from public and private payors. This effort is critical on the private side, where insurers now account for just 10 percent of addiction spending, down from about 30 percent pre-managed care. But one of the little known things about the Treatment Gap is that it may not just be driven by a lack of funding, because, for example, SAMHSA estimates that 97 percent of people who are estimated to need treatment for alcohol do not themselves believe they need any help.