Make a priority
Last week, Gov. Peter Shumlin devoted his entire State of the State address to one critical issue: the rise of heroin addiction. As advocates for people struggling with substance abuse in Vermont, many of us were cheering. Gov. Shumlin correctly argued that treatment costs the state far less than jail, and it produces lasting results.
I was grateful to see the problem of heroin addiction get the attention it deserves. Opiate abuse and overdose in Vermont have increased exponentially in recent years.
Still, this doesn’t mean that other substances have faded from view. Let’s not forget Old Faithful: alcohol. At Phoenix House Vermont, 13 percent of adult treatment admissions listed heroin as a primary drug of choice last year, while more than 50 percent listed alcohol.
This speaks to the need to nourish the whole treatment and recovery system. The Affordable Care Act is bringing addiction treatment into mainstream medical care. So we need to invest more in training primary care physicians to spot the signs of addiction, intervene early, and when necessary make appropriate referrals.
We must also open the treatment system to allow people in need to receive care from any qualified, licensed substance abuse clinician. Currently, the treatment for Medicaid recipients can be provided only by a limited number of agencies selected by the state. While the expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act will increase access to treatment, we must focus on building the infrastructure to serve more Vermonters across our communities.
Now, I don’t claim to know how to increase funding for these and other areas. But my point is that if we really want to combat addiction and overdoses — which, the governor noted, kill more Americans than car crashes — we can’t afford to place key priorities on the back burner.
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