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Necessary expense

Local editorials

Drug treatment costs taxpayers, but ignoring it costs much more

For each of the past three years, students at Southern Oregon University have produced a capstone journalism project that is published in the Mail Tribune. It's an opportunity for the students to have their work published and an opportunity for our readers to see the skills of some young journalists.

The student reporters this year got a glimpse of the underbelly of our valley that few outside law enforcement or social services are exposed to: the destructive power of methamphetamines.

The SOU series, which concludes today, reminds us of the scourge that lives in our communities and in our neighborhoods. It should also remind us once again that money spent in fighting drugs and addiction is money well invested.

The Oregon Legislature got that message. In today's story on the meth plague, we're told how addiction treatment centers across the state were slashed to the budget bone earlier this year when the state's finances plummeted. Much of that funding was returned in the closing weeks of the 2003 Legislature, as part of an &

36;800 million surtax.

Any kind of funding for addicts ' or even for their kids ' can elicit howls of protest from some corners. Why, they ask, should we spend our scarce tax dollars on those people?

— As today's story shows, one of the reasons we spend that money is to avoid spending many times the amount. Addiction recovery counselors will tell you that every dollar spent on treatment and prevention saves &

36;12 in future expenses for such things as medical care, jail costs and the costs of crime in the community.

Now program supporters are, of course, likely to put the best possible spin on the savings their work provides. But even if that number were cut in half, taxpayers would see a 500 percent gain on their investment.

Saving money is only part of the justification for these programs. They also keep us all safer by reducing the number of addicts walking our streets. The director of a local methadone clinic, which lost 60 percent of its state funding in the cuts, offered this grim statistic: A heroin addict commits crimes 237 days a year.

And we offer our tax dollars to these programs for the children of the addicts, children who are statistically more likely to follow the same destructive path as their parents if there is no intervention. What price do you put on saving a child from a life of addiction?

It is frustrating, when our schools don't have enough money and police officers are being laid off, to see tax dollars spent because of someone's vice. But we have to live in the real world and recognize that destructive behavior exists. Ignoring it will only make the problem more destructive and more expensive to our communities.

Our creepy friends

Bats, despite their rather unsavory reputation, actually do a good turn for mankind.

Each of the little warm-blooded critters eats about half its body weight in insects every night ' that translates to some 5,000 insects per bat per night.

Multiply that times the millions of bats that frequent the night skies, and you're talking a huge number of insects that are eradicated by bats.

On the roster of insects, of course, is the mosquito. With the emergence of the West Nile ' a virus that could kill you ' that role of the lowly bat in the ecosystem becomes more important.

While most of us would prefer not to have bats flying about our homes, their presence is important if you wish to get rid of insects the natural way.

And there is a way to increase the number of bats around your home: Put out bat houses that will be attractive to bats. In this area you'll attract small brown bats (wingspan 6-8 inches) or large brown bats (wingspan up to 12 inches).

Bat houses are increasingly available at area nature, birding, feed stores and nurseries. The flat wooden structures mimic nature, where bats can find places to wedge themselves by the dozen to keep warm.

The bat may give some of us the creeps, but humankind needs all of the friends it can find to fend off deadly diseases like the West Nile virus.