The Pierce County Council seems poised to end all funding for the controversial Prometa drug-treatment program in the wake of a public hearing on the program Wednesday.
Two former Prometa supporters on the council – Council Chairman Terry Lee, R-Gig Harbor, and Councilman Roger Bush, R-Graham – said they heard nothing at the hearing to persuade them to restore 2007 funding for the program or to include additional funding in the county’s 2008 budget.
“I didn’t hear anything that was earth-shattering,” Lee said after the hearing.
County Executive John Ladenburg will announce today whether he’ll veto an Oct. 23 council decision to suspend 2007 funding for the program. But with 2008 funding now in doubt, a veto could be a short-lived victory for supporters who say Prometa has dramatically changed the lives of drug addicts.
Earlier this year the council voted 5-2 to spend $400,000 to use Prometa in county drug court. The program – administered by the nonprofit Pierce County Alliance – uses three generic drugs and counseling to reduce cravings in addicts.
Supporters say Prometa has been life-changing for many who have undergone the treatment.
“Prior to getting Prometa, I couldn’t speak complete sentences,” said Melony Wild of Tacoma. She told the council she’s been an addict for 23 years, but has been drug-free for four months because of Prometa.
“I know it’s a miracle,” Wild said.
David Smart of Federal Way told the council he tried various treatments before turning to Prometa. He said he’s been clean for seven months.
“I just know I’m not going to do dope again,” Smart said.
But such personal testimony was countered by a skeptical report from Matt Temmel, the county’s performance audit coordinator.
In a report issued last month, Temmel’s office found little evidence Prometa is effective. And an updated report released Wednesday raised additional questions about the claims of success that have been used to woo investors for Hythiam Inc., the California-based company that licenses the treatment program.
The revised report found 57 percent of people in a 2006 Pierce County Prometa study remained drug-free after 14 months. That’s far below the 86 percent success rate touted by Pierce County Alliance and Hythiam.
The report said supporters have made Prometa look more effective in part by excluding certain participants who were not successfully treated. It also questioned supporters’ definition of “drug free” and cited other problems with interpreting data.
The report concluded scientific proof of Prometa’s effectiveness is unlikely to be available soon.
Councilman Shawn Bunney, R-Lake Tapps, focused on marketing and financial ties between Hythiam and the Pierce County Alliance when questioning the nonprofit’s representatives.
Under Bunney’s questioning, the alliance’s chief financial officer, John Neiswender, acknowledged Hythiam had written two of the nonprofit’s news releases, though he said the nonprofit reviewed them.
And he admitted one news release’s claim that clients were drug-free for 14 months was misleading.
But Tom Leander, president of the nonprofit’s board, defended the Prometa treatment and maintained county auditors aren’t qualified to judge its effectiveness. He said he’s seen the impact of the treatment on clients and can’t wait for scientific proof.
“You don’t wait 10 years to save lives and treat people,” Leander said. “You take advantage when you have that advantage.”
A majority of council members appears unconvinced. Bunney and Councilman Dick Muri, R-Steilacoom, are longtime Prometa skeptics. Now some former supporters on the council have changed their minds.
“I never heard any rebuttal for the specific statements of the auditors,” Bush said after the hearing. “All we heard were general statements, ‘We don’t like (the report), We’re against it.’”
Councilwoman Barbara Gelman, D-Tacoma, who has supported funding for Prometa, now says she’s undecided.
“They haven’t made a real good case,” she said of the treatment’s supporters.
The nonprofit is still receiving county funds to administer Prometa while Ladenburg decides whether to veto the council’s suspension of 2007 funding. The county executive has requested an additional $400,000 for 2008.
Lee said the 2008 funding is in doubt. The council will finalize next year’s budget by Tuesday.
David Wickert: 253-274-7341