The state of addiction today
The current administration has been wrought with controversy, not the least of which has centered on health care reform and how many women feel shorted by the language regarding pre-existing conditions. Women bearing children might qualify for higher premiums under new legislature that could consider pregnancy to be a pre-existing condition.
For me, another serious question has been raised: Will substance-addicted mothers be priced out of affordable health care under the new policies?
GOP house speaker Paul Ryan has tried to ease fears by stating that those who choose to maintain their current coverage will not be expected to see raises in their premiums. This doesn’t assuage the concerns of millions who may be switching insurance providers (such as those who switch employers) or new applicants to health insurance. It does less yet to comfort the substance use treatment communities, where patients are often in financial strain to begin with and avoid treatment for as long as possible (at least, until their pre-existing condition is well rooted).
Not only does the new legislation bring another layer of insecurity to those seeking treatment, but it also cements a social stigma that substance use disorder specialists have been fighting for decades. To be clear, addiction is a disease, and is clearly defined as on in the DSM-V, the current diagnostic and statistics manual for mental health specialists. Yet refusing health insurance to those suffer with the disease crystallizes the stigma that their disease is a personal fault.
The problem at hand
Drugabuse.com cites a 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health that found “21.5 [million] Americans age 12 and older had a substance use disorder in the previous year; however, sadly only 2.5 million received the specialized treatment they needed.” Stigmas and shame are a serious side-effect to addiction, and are a major factor in the exponential growth of the disease.
Women suffering with opioid addiction give birth to an average 2.5 times as many children as non-afflicted women. Each of these children is born with her mother’s addiction already rooted in their brains and must undergo detox in a neonatal intensive care unit from birth. One of their first experiences in the world is the withdrawal symptoms from drugs such as heroin or prescription painkillers. Meanwhile, the mothers of these children have to spend time in their own detox therapy, apart from their newborns while they both undergo treatment.
Addiction is generational. Just like genetic disorders, children born into addiction have an uphill battle for their entire lives, statistically performing more poorly in school, having social difficulties and ending up in prison more often than their non-addicted peers. They also have higher rates of addiction, and inadequate follow up means few of these children are being counseled and helped with their innate addiction.
Effective, yet not prioritized
Drug addiction treatments have been proven to be highly effective when applied correctly, and funded adequately. Research shows a seven to one return for every public dollar spent in treatment of substance use disorders. Those who make it to one year of sobriety have an 80 percent chance to make it to five years. Those who make it to five years have a 90 percent chance to survive their addiction. If we had numbers like that for any other disease treatment, funding would flourish immediately and we would support it wholeheartedly.
Yet we’re not doing that for substance use disorders. This is a disorder that spreads from mother to children. This is a disease that leaves not just a lifelong, but a generational echo of poverty, instability, debilitating sickness, and death. Every year there are 42,000 babies are born within the fetal alcohol spectrum, which is the leading cause of intellectual disabilities in America, each case being 100 percent preventable (The Physicians Committee, 2015). We perpetuate addiction by not treating women and mothers who need it most, and by failing to provide wrap-around support for their children. The cost of ignoring this problem is the root of one of the biggest healthcare costs in the nation, and the birth of a much larger social epidemic.
Where we should be
There needs to be a reform of the very way we think of addiction diseases, from how we treat it to how we talk about it. We have the tools, the statistics, and the community we need to finally tackle this disease that’s been around for decades. We just need to be more open to those who need our help, and let them know we are there for them. We need to bring down the barriers that keep the afflicted from seeking out much needed help. We urge you to write to your local senators and educate them on this much ignored epidemic. It’s not just about saving those suffering with addiction; it’s about preventative care and a brighter future for their children. It’s about abolishing the need for such a huge margin of healthcare expenditure by treating the heart of the matter directly.