Healthcare and Addiction

Addiction and healthcareHealthcare and addiction, in reality, are closely connected – in obvious ways and not so obvious ways. I want to address the hidden costs of chemical dependence/addiction. Our healthcare system treats mostly symptoms of addiction. One of the problems is often with addiction the effects are so far removed from the cause in time it’s hard to follow the path from cause to effect. If early healthcare costs could be immediately associated with addiction, then maybe the fundamental problem could be treated, thus, in the future, saving billions upon billions, not to mention quality and length of life in general.

The healthcare system, like many systems in business, especially when it comes to addiction, is driven primarily by short term financial concerns. This systemic drive to cut costs rejects proposals to treat fundamental problems so costs are significantly lowered in the future. If there’s not a short-term financial benefit, then most healthcare concerns will not properly treat addiction today to save money in the future. Most healthcare concerns don’t even identify addiction as a significant cause of current healthcare costs when it’s obviously a fundamental problem. Emergency rooms are filled with addicts who get bandaged, stitched and temporarily fixed up then sent back out to return over and over. Who’s following the dots from early addiction to death and recording the consequences in between? I’ve worked in the addiction field long enough, since 1983, to see clearly causes and effects related to healthcare and addiction. 

Research shows that long-term quality treatment is effective for many addicts. Some addicts can recover through shorter term treatments, and some alcoholics can go straight into Alcoholics Anonymous and do well. But, most addicts require treatment, and long-term treatment is the most effective means to establish long-term recovery. The problem is in the present healthcare system there isn’t a desire to fund long-term treatment. The main reason long-term treatment is not funded is because it costs too much money — this is what you’ll hear over and over. Insurance companies will officially say it’s not medically necessary, but the reason they say this is to cut costs short-term (am I too cynical?). Never mind the insurance company will pay for the addiction in other ways — accidents, liver disease, gastritis, gun shot wounds, heart disease, stress related illnesses, etc.

Also, when we talk about the effectiveness of addiction treatment, we’re talking about addiction treatment that’s never received the funding or resources equivalent to other major healthcare concerns. There are many professionals in the healthcare system who don’t believe addiction is a chronic brain disease requiring treatment, although this has been established in medicine and science for many decades. There has never been a concerted nationwide attempt to consistently treat addiction as a serious medical condition that requires major resources and expertise. You don’t hear young people going to college saying they are going to start a career in the field of addiction treatment. Healthcare and addiction have been loosely associated, although in reality they are closely connected, and addiction treatment has been haphazard. Once addiction is accepted as the major health concern it is then, perhaps, insurance companies and others involved in the healthcare system will follow the dots from early addiction to all the consequences that follow.

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