My two sons are alive and well, so this Mother’s Day I’m speaking out in gratitude for the Affordable Care Act. For the sake of millions of parents whose loved ones struggle with addictive illness, I am relieved that the ACA wasn’t repealed. Therefore I must speak out, not as a policy wonk, a health care professional or even a person in recovery myself, but as a mom.
I believe my younger son is over two years sober today because he was able to get health insurance through the ACA. In prior years a “pre-existing condition” (opiate dependency) barred him from getting insurance that would cover the degree of treatment he needed for his decades of IV drug use, as well as the length of time he needed in residential treatment to heal and find recovery. Because of his mandated insurance benefits, he was able to receive six months of intensive residential treatment.
I know that the ACA is still threatened, and I’m concerned that new proposed health care plans will slash money for treatment and reduce access to lifesaving health services for people who have substance use disorders. We are losing far too many precious lives unnecessarily due to health issues associated with drug use and to the accidental opioid overdose epidemic.
I’m a lucky mother, because both of my sons have survived accidental overdoses. They have found and are sustaining recovery, and they are helping other people by working in the addiction treatment field today. They understand the necessity for policies that reduce the harms associated with drug use and addiction, because despite the odds, they managed to survive, heal and thrive.
But I can’t be complacent and count my blessings while so many other lives are gravely at risk. Prior to the Obama administration paltry few people could access treatment. And, insurance didn’t cover substance use treatment services. As a humane drug policy advocate, I get calls from distraught family members every day, who know that their loved one has a life-threatening disease, but feel powerless to help. I have been in that insane maze for decades with my own sons. I’ve been down the road where you put every penny you can gather to get them into 30 days of treatment, only to have them right back out and a slave to the needle the next day. And, I have stood by helplessly as society and the criminal justice system labeled them and treated them like criminals for non-violent drug use.
According to Michael Botticelli, President Obama’s Director of National Drug Control Policy, “We know that many people who are injecting drugs have viral hepatitis. We’ve seen outbreaks in parts of the country with people with HIV …People need access to high-quality, comprehensive health care if they’re really going to deal with these issues.”
Director Botticelli personally knew the devastation of untreated addictive illness, and he listened to moms like me. We were working together to address this critically urgent problem.
But today’s administration threatens to undue all of the progress we have made. The impact of repeal would be seen in an increase of untreated disease. It would increase homelessness and crime, thereby threatening public safety. But most importantly it would increase accidental overdose, the steady and tragically unnecessary loss of lives to untreated addictive illness and the inherent health problems associated with it.
Mother’s Day can be a lovely time to spend with your family honoring motherhood. When we look at history, the celebration is also one of maternal strength and action. Mother’s Day was started in North America as a response to the carnage and deaths from the Civil War. Mothers protested the futility of their sons killing the sons of other mothers. In the 1930s a group of mothers were instrumental in ending alcohol prohibition in the United States, because of the corruption, gangland violence and deaths that it caused.
We are again at a critical time in our history. Today mothers are leading the charge to end the disastrous war on drugs and failed punitive prohibitionist policies that have wreaked such havoc on our families. Moms United to End the War on Drugs representatives from across the nation and around the globe are telling their stories in an effort to call attention to the tragic loss of lives and liberties caused by the drug war. Moms are united in advocating for therapeutic and restorative drug policies.
I urge other mothers to speak out for our maternal rights to protect our children and families and to demand health care services that should be a basic human right for all.
The Affordable Healthcare Act isn’t perfect, but it begins the process of honoring and caring for all lives, and together we can continue to make it better.
Gretchen Burns Bergman is Co-Founder of A New PATH (Parents for Addiction Treatment & Healing), and lead organizer of the international Moms United to End the War on Drugs campaign. www.momsunited.net.