While meth use remains high in Sacramento and other Central Valley counties, addiction treatment providers are struggling to stretch their shrinking resources to cope with the demand for treatment.
A recent study by the Office of National Drug Control Policy showed that 40 percent of men arrested in Sacramento last year had methamphetamine in their system, a 10 percent increase over 2009.
But over that same time frame, the amount of state and federal money available for treatment programs in Sacramento has dwindled, and local tax revenue has not rebounded enough to close the gap.
Subsequently, enrollment in meth treatment programs in Sacramento dropped 29 percent.
"We have at least 700 high-risk drug offenders that we would like to provide supervision and treatment to," said Sacramento County Probation Department spokesman Alan Seeber. But he said that violent criminals, sex offenders and gang members take a higher priority.
"A lot of those offenders that aren't being supervised are high-risk drug offenders and high-risk property offenders," Seeber said. "And often those go hand-in-hand."
Across the state, data show a steady reduction in meth addiction treatment. According to the California Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs, 78,000 people were admitted to meth addiction programs in the fiscal year starting July 1, 2006. Five years later, fewer than 44,000 people received treatment for meth addiction.
County officials attribute much of the drop-off to the end of rehab funding provided by Proposition 36, which California voters passed in 2000. The initiative diverted nonviolent drug offenders from jail to treatment programs, setting aside $120 million a year for five years for that purpose.
But after 2006, the state began to cut back on Proposition 36 funding. By 2011, state and federal funding had completely dried up, leaving the counties to fund Proposition 36 programs themselves.
However, most counties haven't been able to restore the programs and positions cut during the recession, and a federal substance abuse grant that provides California's counties with nearly $250 million per year shrank from 2010 to 2012.
"Our programs treat mostly the severe of the severe," said Tom Renfree, executive director of the County Alcohol and Drug Program Administrators Association of California. "It would be comparable to say that if someone had diabetes, you don't start treating them until you have to cut off a limb."
With the end of Proposition 36 funding from the state, Sacramento County's Department of Health and Human Services says treating criminals with meth addiction is not a top priority.
Today, meth-using offenders "receive services behind those groups we are federally mandated to serve, which includes pregnant women, HIV-positive individuals and intravenous drug users," spokeswoman Laura McCasland wrote in an email.
The responsibility of helping drug offenders has largely fallen to probation departments. For Sacramento County's Probation Department, it's a difficult task. Seeber said the department's 620 employees are charged with tracking more than 20,000 probationers.
The Probation Department runs three day-reporting centers where probationers can get drug treatment, but not everyone can be served.
"We actually ran out of money before the end of the year," said B.J. Davis, who co-directs a rehab facility called Strategies for Change, whose employees work in the day-reporting centers.
Because more probationers sought treatment than his company anticipated, Davis said, "we ended up spending out the Probation Department's money in May, and we still had May and June to go." The county managed to fill the gap with an injection of realignment funds.
And Sacramento isn't the only county seeing high demand for rehab services. Addiction counselors and county officials throughout the Central Valley are trying to do more with less.
"Everything's getting overcrowded," said Angel Del Rio, a substance abuse counselor who works for Madera County. He said the waiting list for probationers in his county to get into residential drug treatment programs has grown.
In the 1990s, San Joaquin County operated four residential treatment facilities. Today, there are two. The number of meth addicts treated last year in the county dropped by more than half since 2008-2009, state data show.
"At one time, we had over 300 staff in substance abuse services," said Roland Anderson, who coordinates addiction treatment for the county. "Today, we have about 60."
Across the Central Valley, drug treatment programs are also being shortened. In Tulare County, the residential drug treatment program was shortened in 2010 from 90 days to 30, and the outpatient program went from six months to 3 1 / 2 months. In Madera County, the outpatient treatment program went from 18 months to six.
There are small signs of improvement. With the economy picking up, Anderson said his department is beginning to hire again. Del Rio, in Madera County, said his situation has improved since last year, when his group therapy sessions had more than 20 attendees, more than double their recommended size.
But given the magnitude of meth addiction in the Central Valley, counselors and officials say that a gradual restoration of treatment capacity isn't enough.
"The system's broke," said Del Rio. "Meth is not going away any time soon."
Call The Bee's Jack Newsham, (916) 321-1100. Follow him in Twitter @TheNewsHam.