Ladenburg OKs Prometa suspension
DAVID WICKERT; The News Tribune
Pierce County Executive John Ladenburg approved a measure Thursday that suspends current funding for the controversial Prometa drug-treatment program.
But the executive still hopes to reach a compromise with the County Council that would salvage $400,000 in funding for Prometa in the county’s 2008 budget.
Ladenburg is proposing a compromise that would address key council concerns, including stock ownership by people who oversee the treatment and additional evidence of its effectiveness.
“I am firmly committed to pursuing full funding for the program as contained in my 2008 proposed budget,” Ladenburg wrote in a letter to council Chairman Terry Lee, R-Gig Harbor. “The issues which caused the council to freeze the funding for the remainder of 2007 are not insurmountable.”
In April the council agreed to spend $400,000 to use Prometa in county drug court. The treatment program uses generic drugs and counseling to reduce cravings in addicts.
Supporters say Prometa has made a dramatic difference in the lives of addicts. But a county performance auditor’s report last month suggested claims of Prometa’s effectiveness had been exaggerated and found proof of its effectiveness is lacking.
Council members also became concerned when several Prometa supporters admitted they owned stock in Hythiam Inc., the company that licenses the treatment program.
Among those who bought stock were Ladenburg, state Rep. Dennis Flannigan, D-Tacoma, and employees of Pierce County Alliance, the nonprofit that administers Prometa for the county.
On Oct. 23 the council voted 4-3 to suspend 2007 funding for Prometa in light of questions about its effectiveness. Ladenburg threatened to veto that decision.
Instead, on Thursday he signed the measure, which included supplemental funding for other county programs.
“I didn’t want to jeopardize the funding for the other parts of this budget ordinance,” Ladenburg said in an interview.
And as the council hurries to finish the 2008 budget, Ladenburg said he didn’t see the point in taking up the council’s time with a vote on whether to override his veto.
“Obviously they have concerns,” Ladenburg said. He said he hopes to address those concerns by proposing a compromise that would persuade some council members to change their minds about 2008 Prometa funding.
The council will finalize a budget Tuesday, and Ladenburg said his staff will work this weekend on a Prometa funding measure he hopes can gain the approval of a council majority.
Among the issues the compromise would address:
• Hythiam stock ownership by employees of Pierce County Alliance.
• Language in the nonprofit’s contract with Hythiam that requires the agency to market Prometa.
• Continuing demonstrations of Prometa’s “superior effectiveness.”
Ladenburg said he could provide no details. And he said there’s no guarantee a compromise can be reached.
It will be difficult to convince some council members.
Councilman Shawn Bunney, R-Lake Tapps, said it makes more sense for the county to invest the $400,000 sought for Prometa in proven drug-treatment programs.
“We simply do not have the dollars to waste on something as unproven as (Prometa),” Bunney said.
Lee, the council chairman, may be the swing vote. He’s supported Prometa funding in the past.
Lee said he’s not opposed to providing funding for Prometa in 2008 if supporters can demonstrate that it’s effective. But he needs more evidence.
Lee said the council might support more funding for drug programs generally – not Prometa specifically.
If Prometa supporters can prove its effectiveness, the treatment program could get funding, Lee said.
“I think that any appropriation for Prometa or any other drug program would be conditioned on evidence-based results,” he said.
David Wickert: 253-274-7341