The argument over healthcare that’s raging in D.C. reveals different philosophies and values. There’s legitimate debate between government control of healthcare and free market forces, but if government decides to control healthcare, one of the worst things they can do is limit coverage of mental health and addiction. Typically, when money is trimmed from healthcare costs, addiction services are hit hard. This makes no sense, especially when large parts of the nation are presently beset by an opioid addiction epidemic. Opioids and insurance are important topics. The cost to society caused by untreated addiction is astounding.
Addiction is America’s most neglected disease. According to a Columbia University study, “40 million Americans age 12 and over meet the clinical criteria for addiction involving nicotine, alcohol or other drugs.” That’s more Americans than those with heart disease, diabetes or cancer. An estimated additional 80 million people in this country are “risky substance users,” meaning that while not addicted, they “use tobacco, alcohol and other drugs in ways that threaten public health and safety.” The costs to government coffers alone (not including family, out of pocket and private insurance costs) exceed $468 billion annually.
Over 38,000 peopled died of drug overdoses in the U.S. in 2010, greater than the deaths attributed to motor vehicle accidents, homicides and suicides. Overdose deaths from opioids (narcotic pills like Oxycontin, Percodan and Methadone as well as heroin) have become the fastest growing drug problem throughout the U.S., and not just in large urban settings.
The opioid epidemic’s getting worse and insurance coverage will likely get worse, yet news outlets and politicians are obsessed with Tweets. It’s going to take a serious, national effort to curb the costly and deadly consequences of addiction, but I don’t see any real urgency among those who possess the most leverage to create change. So government policy makers deal with symptoms as the fundamental problem grows worse by the day.