When I was a drug addict, I remember thinking that my neighborhood was starting to develop a drug problem.
I never thought it would get this bad.
In Philadelphia, the number of heroin overdoses has nearly doubled in since 2014. In Palm Beach Country, the heroin epidemic cost the city 1.1 billion dollars. Yes, that’s billion with a B.
We could all recount overdoses and lives lost in 2016. One of my sister’s friends died in the bathroom of a local breakfast diner a few months ago. It is truly heartbreaking.
Now, the intent of this article is not to sensationalize addiction. We all know what is happening. It is worse than it has ever been before.
Rather, I intend to look deeper into the addiction treatment process and open a dialogue on what changes need to be made, could be made or should be made.
This is all coming from personal experience and I would love to hear opinions in the comments section.
Treatment Has a Success Rate, Even If It Isn’t a Good One
Let us note that measuring the success rates of treatment is difficult. Recently, I attended a conference in Washington D.C. and the topic of pressuring treatment facilities to start identifying and reporting their success rates was a topic that came up frequently.
For that reason, we don’t have an exact number on what the success rates really are. Depending on who you ask you can get anywhere from a 90% to a 20% success rate.
That huge differential is a red flag that there are holes in the treatment system.
However, I know much more people who have maintained long-term recovery after attending treatment than not at all.
I hardly know anyone who has gotten and stayed clean and sober without attending an addiction treatment program. That within itself is a valuable piece of information because we know that regardless of how low the success rates are, they are still higher than the success rates of not going.
Treatment is important.
How is someone supposed to learn the tools needed for sobriety without attending some sort of program? Sobriety is just like anything else. You need to learn how to do it. You need good teachers and you need practice.
Recommending or suggesting that addiction treatment is a waste of time is a moot point. We know that it saves lives.
Relapse Doesn’t Happen in Treatment, It Happens After Treatment
I compare this issue to the prison problem.
Our system is designed for acute and intense repercussions and therapy. Just like prison, treatment does a very poor job of preparing you for the outside world.
In a study done by drugabuse.gov, it was discovered that the severity of the condition of addiction drastically declined while in treatment. Unfortunately, the severity spiked back up once treatment was completed.
How is this doing anyone any good?
Hard working families are paying lots of money to send their children, their loved ones or themselves to a facility in hopes that when they get out, their lives will be better. Yet far too often, getting out is exactly the point where their lives once again decline.
Can the treatment industry be held responsible for the actions of clients once they have completed the program? No. Not entirely.
But how are there no repercussions taken to eliminate treatment centers that do not keep their clients sober?
If a heart surgeon completes a surgery, but 4 weeks later all of his/her patients are dying of heart attacks, wouldn’t the services performed by that doctor be looked at very closely? It wouldn’t take long for that surgeon to lose his or her license or be let go from the hospital he/she works at.
Why is addiction treatment any different?
There has to be some kind of governing body that mandates the success rates of treatment. This way the successful treatment centers can actually be recognized for the life-saving work they do while the fly by night facilities get shut down.
Addiction is the most expensive and most deadly health problem our country faces, yet we continue to treat is as though it is a health commodity.
This is not yoga or an organic juice diet. This is a life-saving service that needs to be taken seriously.
I’ve come to discover that the majority of treatment centers are owned and operated by good people who have a deep passion for giving back. Yet it is the few facilities who run on less than moral business practices that make everyone else look bad.
Isn’t that always the case.
How Do We Pay For Treatment?
Sober Nation refers to treatment centers across the country.
Because of this, I have received hundreds of Facebook messages and emails from people questioning the legitimacy of what we are doing.
Somehow, the popular lexicon has decided that if you are doing work that helps people then you should not be paid to do so. Why is the public so outraged with the costs of treatment?
Addiction counselors go to school for 8+ years. Treatment centers have huge zoning costs, huge labor costs and in actuality, insurance companies rarely pay the facilities what is billed. The power is in the insurance companies and frankly, they can simply decide not to pay a treatment facility for a multitude of reasons.
The cost of treatment is high. The cost for any medical service is high because the knowledge and liability required are so extensive that the service can only be performed by a select group of people.
The problem with availability of treatment is not the high cost, it is the socio-economic barriers that come with addiction.
For complicated (yet obvious) reasons that we need not get into, many drug addicts are not insured. The ones that are don’t always receive the same consequences for their actions. Drug addicts in southside Chicago look much different than they do in New Jersey suburbs.
This juxtaposition creates a dynamic that makes it very difficult to treat everyone effectively.
Unless you have private insurance, your options are limited.
If there is an area in which I am most curious to hear your opinions, it is here. I certainly do not have a good solution to this problem but I am extremely anxious to find one.
Until we can create a system in which treatment is available to everyone, we will continue to have this epidemic. Drugs are more addictive now then they have ever been. There is real chemical dependency going on, the likes of which requires more than health retreats and tough love from 12 step fellowships.
The withdrawal effects from the kind of drugs that are out there are very real and they make people behave in ways that are extremely unpredictable and difficult to manage.
These drugs are powerful. More powerful than most people realize and to expect someone to get off of prescription painkillers or fentanyl-laced heroin by attending a 3 day state run detox is madness.
It is never going to happen.
Pulling It All Together
It is so easy to create a villain.
It is so easy for people to say that the criminal justice system us the problem. Or that treatment centers are the problem. Or insurance companies are the problem. Once we go down that rabbit hole, where does it end?
The only way to really solve this epidemic is to start at the beginning.
The point I am really trying to make is that the treatment industry is far from perfect, but our system is much more effective than most addiction treatment systems in the world.
We should be grateful for what we have but instead of yelling at each other and passing blame around, we need to find ways to come together for our common purpose.
Until we do that, more people are going to die.