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Addictions emerge as the nation's #1 public health crisis

October 17, 2014
by Linda Rosenberg
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Guest Blog
Linda Rosenberg

The death of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman from a drug overdose earlier this year has faded from the headlines, and the Twitter feeds from fellow celebrities urging people with addictions to get help have stopped. Those suspected of supplying the actor with drugs have been arrested. 

But while Hoffman’s death now seems like distant memory, the toll that addiction continues to take on everyday Americans is happening here and now. We need not wait for the next high-profile overdose death to realize that addictions have emerged as America’s biggest public health crisis. Nor should we stop asking whether our prevention and treatment strategies could be more robust.

The reality is that few people who need treatment for an illicit drug or alcohol problem receive it — less than 11 percent. More than 23 million Americans are addicted to alcohol and drugs, and the estimated annual combined healthcare cost and lost productivity is some $365 billion.

The string of celebrity deaths from drug overdoses in recent years serve as stinging reminders that episodic treatment does not always equal recovery. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) estimates that 40 percent to 60 percent of recovering addicts will backslide, meaning that relapse is not only possible, but likely. The fact that celebrities, who typically have access to more resources than most Americans, experience relapse underscores that addiction can be a chronic disease that is extremely difficult to control without ongoing treatment and community supports.

For many who do seek treatment, recovery can be only temporary unless they receive ongoing care. When it comes to diabetes or heart disease or cancer, the healthcare industry tracks outcomes and offers treatment that sticks. A. Thomas McLellan, chair and co-founder of the Treatment Research Institute, is accurate when he compares the addiction treatment process in this country to a washing machine. We churn people through before they’ve had a chance to heal. “There are no 30-day diabetes programs, and they certainly don’t have graduation ceremonies,” he says.

The time has come to redesign addiction services using a chronic disease model that tailors treatment to the patient’s needs and creates capacity in every community, including:

·         Single points of access to triage people into the appropriate level of care;

·         Emergency treatments;

·         Residential services;

·         Housing with restorative services;

·         Case/care management;

·         Medication assisted treatment;

·         Cognitive interventions; and

·         Family support. 

It will take the growing movement of people in recovery and their families, supported by all of us, to drive change.

We believe the National Council for Behavioral Healthcare’s merger with the State Associations of Addiction Services is a step toward the goal of delivering a full range of addiction services to every corner of our country. The merger expands our addiction expertise and strengthens our advocacy voice with the administration, in Congress, and in states and local communities. We are stronger together, and we plan to be a resounding voice for people with addictions across the nation.

Linda Rosenberg is President and CEO of the National Council for Behavioral Healthcare.

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