State Health Funds Threatened

Federal officials on Monday threatened to yank $37 million in drug treatment dollars from states that haven't sufficiently curtailed underage smoking.

The government has notified seven states and the District of Columbia that because they failed to meet target rates for reducing sales of tobacco products to minors, the law requires 40 percent cuts in 1999 block grants for substance abuse and treatment programs.

States found in noncompliance may request an appeal hearing. Upon losing an appeal, states can choose to pay the penalty from this year's budget or have the funds shaved from the budget for fiscal 2000, which begins Oct. 1.

White House drug control director Barry McCaffrey criticized the law as too harsh because he said it may force some drug treatment centers to close and "some heroin addicts might be forced back on the streets to return to a criminal life."

"We agree that the carrot-and-stick approach of the law can serve a purpose of pushing compliance, but we must not throw the baby out with the bathwater by increasing drug addiction and crime," said McCaffrey.

The law requires states to pass laws banning tobacco sales to anyone under age 18 and aggressively enforce those laws through random, unannounced inspections and other measures.

"Congress passed a law and it is our job to enforce that law," said Mark Weber, spokesman for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. "This program has had tremendous success in reducing youth access to tobacco."

Missouri stands to lose the most, $9.6 million. The other states were Delaware, with a $2.2 million penalty; Iowa, $5 million; Minnesota, $8.4 million; Oregon, $6 million; Rhode Island, $2.4 million; and Wyoming, $980,950. The District of Columbia would lose nearly $2 million.

Written By Libby Quaid