Rick Perry and the Model for Reform
Part of Texas’s success in combating the spread of drug abuse is due to Rick Perry, the longest-serving governor in the history of the state (2000-2015). According to Globe News Wire, Texas had only seven drug courts when Perry took office; in 2014, when Perry was presented with the National Award for Criminal Justice Reform by the National Association of Drug Court Professionals, his state had 136 drug courts and 15 specialized courts for treating army veterans (focusing on the connection between combat-related stress disorders and substance abuse)., 
What’s changed? How is Texas transitioning from its lowly healthcare rank to becoming a “national and international model for reform,” where an estimated $2 billion are saved in closing prisons and giving Texas its lowest crime rates in years?
The Lesson from California
One of the solutions comes from one of Texas’s own problems that the Dallas Daily News mentioned: politics. The Daily Beast reports that from 1985-2005, Texas’s prison population jumped from 37,281 to 152,000, giving the state the second-highest incarceration rate across America. Prisons overflowed, forcing state officials to use county jails. Some convicts were forced to sleep on the floor; others were released early, some of them serving only a month for every year of their sentence before they were rotated out of the prison system to make room for a wave of new inmates.
For as bad as Texas’s situation was, California had it much worse. The controversial “Three Strikes” law had the most populous state in the country see a 570 percent jump in its prison population from 1980-2010; in that same timeframe, the general population of California grew only 57 percent. Inmates killed themselves at a rate of nearly 80 percent that of the national average for a prison population, and the U.S. Supreme Court finally stepped in and decided that California’s state penitentiary system was in violation of the Eighth Amendment’s understanding of what constituted cruel and unusual punishment.,,
As California refocused its efforts away from going after nonviolent crime (as part of the equally contentious Proposition 47), Rick Perry took note. When the National Association of Drug Court Professionals bestowed upon him the National Award for Criminal Justice Reform, they noted his action in “[combining] accountability and extensive treatment.” Perry himself pointed out Texas’s focus on “specialty courts” that provide exclusive and distinct treatment services for patients from all walks of life, giving millions of Texans an alternative to being put into prison without any care or consideration given to social or mental health factors.
As part of that drive, The Texas Tribune noted that lawmakers allocated unheard of levels of funding to services to assist patients with mental health disorders. Spurred in part by a spate of mass shootings and the controversy over people with mental health problems having access to firearms, Texas lawmakers approved budget increases for mental health services that rank among the largest in the United States. The 2013 legislative session allocated around $300 million in that direction more than the previous session did. A mental health policy analyst for the Center for Public Policy Priorities said that the $2.6 billion earmarked by the Department of State Health Services is “unprecedented.”
It’s a drastic change from 2010, when Texas came 49th in the country in per capita expenditures for mental health services. Then, the state spent less than $1 for every $3 spent per patient in other states. Today, Texas is closer to the national average for mental health services expenditures.
A specific part of the drive goes towards reducing waitlists at community mental health services. July 2013 saw more than 5,200 adults and 190 children who were waiting to receive care at such facilities. The Texas State Legislature put aside around $48 million for community health centers to hire more psychiatrists, or do whatever they felt was necessary, so that the people who required mental health services the most could get them.
However, Texas’s Medicaid eligibility standards, which are among the most restrictive in the country, might disqualify a large number of people living below the poverty line, who have co-occurring mental health and substance abuse disorders, to receive the expanded health insurance covered offered by the Affordable Care Act. Low-income individuals, or those who are homeless or have criminal records, usually have the greatest need for mental health and drug addiction services, but often get the least access to them. The associate general counsel for the Texas Hospital Association tells The Texas Tribune that the people her organization sees the most with mental health issues are the ones who have no mental health coverage.
Texas Culture and Substance Abuse
In 2010, the Houston Chronicle broke a story on the rise of prescription drug abuse in Texas, finding that 1,900 of the state’s residents died every year as a result of overdosing on their medication. In response, addiction expert Jane Maxwell led the calls for state legislators to fund a system to track prescription drugs in real time, and to create a system whereby state authorities could monitor overdose deaths to improve their responses.
Meanwhile, colleges took their own steps. Some schools have posted information about the causes and signs of overdoses on dormitory doors, offering classes and seminars on substance abuse. Some have even provided amnesty to students who are hesitant to ask for help, for fear that divulging drug use or illicit alcohol consumption might lead to punitive academic or legal measures.
Such steps are especially notable because of the prevalence of dangerous substances on college campuses. Risky, impulsive behavior is widely considered to be “part of the college experience,” to the point where the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism found that more than 80 percent of college students consume alcohol on campus., 
Texas and Marijuana
Marijuana possession, meanwhile, is one of the most common causes of arrest in Texas, with almost 70,000 adults arrested in 2013 for possession. They accounted for 60 percent of all drug possession-related arrests in the state. Despite Texas’s reputation for being deeply conservative (the state has elected Republican governors since 1994 and last voted for a Democrat in a presidential election in 1976), My San Antonio reports that 49 percent of Texans support legalizing small amounts of marijuana for recreational use, and 77 percent favor marijuana being legalized for medical use.
Perhaps anticipating the shift, then-Governor Perry spoke in favor of reducing penalties for small amounts of marijuana use. He spoke of how his policies of allocating resources away from prison sentences, and towards probation and progressive forms of treatment, have set a model for other states to follow. While still opposing the outright legalization adopted by Washington state and Colorado, Perry touted his “diversionary and rehabilitative programs” (such as drug courts) as examples of how decriminalization keeps minor offenders out of jail, keeps families together, and provides appropriate counseling and therapeutic services.
Addiction Treatment and Services in Texas
The White House’s Office of National Drug Control Policy talks about the Drug-Free Communities (DFC) Support Program in Texas. DFCs work with local organizations to prevent drug use by adolescents. In 2011, the White House gave grants to Texas groups like:
- Aransas Citizens Against Drugs (“promoting health, safety and wellness [and] reducing drug use”)
- Bacoda Galveston Community Coalition
- Texans Standing Tall, Inc. (Austin)
- Dallas Area Drug Prevention Partnership
- Drugs Kill Campaign
Treatment in Texas Today
 “Texas Ranked Worst in the Nation for Health Care by Gov’t Agency.” (July 2012). New York Daily News. Accessed September 9, 2015.
 “Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Illegal Immigration (But Didn’t Know Who To Ask).” (November 2010). Texas Monthly. Accessed September 9, 2015.
 “Democratic Group Says Texas Poverty Up, Exceeding National Average, on Rick Perry’s Watch.” (January 2015). PolitiFact. Accessed September 9, 2015.
 “Prescription Drug Abuse: Strategies to Stop the Epidemic.” (October 2013). Trust for America’s Health. Accessed September 9, 2015.
 “Texas Governor Rick Perry Receives National Award for Criminal Justice Reform.” (April 2014). Globe News Wire. Accessed September 10, 2015.
 “Justices, 5-4, Tell California to Cut Prison Population.” (May 2011). The New York Times. Accessed September 10, 2015.
 “New Year Brings Cautious Hope For Mental Health Care.” (January 2014). The Texas Tribune. Accessed September 10, 2015.
 “Abuse of Prescription Drugs is on the Rise Across Texas.” (December 2010). Houston Chronicle. Accessed September 10, 2015.
 “Cheap Drinks and Risk-Taking Fuel College Drinking Culture.” (September 2014). NPR. Accessed September 10, 2015
 “Texans’ Attitude Shifting Along With U.S. On Legalizing Pot.” (February 2014). My San Antonio. Accessed September 11, 2015.
 “Gov. Rick Perry, in Davos, Touts Texas as Model for Progressive Drug Policy Short of Decriminalization.” (January 2014). Statesman. Accessed September 11, 2015.