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Editorial: Addiction overhaul

As a recent AP story pointed out, it has been some 60 years since doctors began to admit that addiction was a disease that could be treated, rather than a moral failing.

But despite that conclusion, the condition still dwells on the fringes of the medical community, with only 1 cent of every health care dollar in the United States going toward chemical addiction treatment.

As a result, relatively few alcoholics and drug addicts receive treatment.

But one huge barrier to treatment, a lack of health insurance, will begin to crumble in less than a year when 3 million to 5 million people with drug and alcohol problems will suddenly become eligible for insurance coverage under the new health care overhaul.

That means the number of people seeking treatment could double over current levels, depending on how many states decide to expand their Medicaid programs and how many addicts choose to take advantage of the new opportunity.

That surge in patients is expected to push addiction treatment system out of church basements and into the mainstream of medical care.

According to that story, the prospect of more paying patients has already prompted private equity firms to increase their investments in addiction treatment companies and families fighting the affliction are beginning to consider a new avenue for help.

“There is no illness currently being treated that will be more affected by the Affordable Care Act than addiction,” said Tom McLellan, CEO of the nonprofit Treatment Research Institute and President Barack Obama’s former deputy drug czar.

“That’s because we have a system of treatment that was built for a time when they didn’t understand that addiction was an illness.”

But those eager for a new chance at sobriety may be surprised by the reality behind the promise. The system for treating substance abuse — now largely publicly funded and run by counselors with limited medical training — is small and already full to overflowing in many places. In more than two-thirds of the states, treatment clinics are already at or approaching 100 percent capacity.

The new demand could swamp the system before even half of the newly insured show up at the door, causing waiting lists of months or longer, treatment agencies say. In recent years, many rehab centers have been shrinking rather than growing because of government budget cuts for patients who receive public support.

Nonetheless, despite the problems, we all should be excited that at last, the health care system will be forced to deal in a forthright fashion with one of society’s biggest problems.

It’s long overdue.

sadly my granddaughter died of a heroin overdose; she was able to receive detox but as people who work in the world of addiction recovery is the maintenance of sobriety. Sadly for her she was not able to find a rehab program that had beds available as she was limited by her state health insurance. May we as a community continue to focus on the needs of addiction.

The comment I posted yesterday does not read the way it was written so to edit my comment: Ashley ( my granddaughter) was able to receive detox and was waiting for bed availability for re-hab. As professionals who work with the disease of addiction know re-hab is the road to recovery and then maintaining that sobriety is the work for the addict. Sadly for Ashley her limited health insurance put her on a long list for a bed and she accidentally overdosed before she got the help she needed.

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