We know that addiction is a disease. And, in fact, it affects 1.5 times as many people as those with all cancers combined. Yet why don’t we treat addiction like cancer?
It’s a good question and one that was addressed in a recent opinion piece in The New York Times. The author, Laura Hilgers, has a 22-year-old daughter who has struggled with alcohol and drug addiction.
Hilgers talks about the stark difference between her stepbrother’s treatment for Stage 4 lymphoma and her daughter’s addiction treatment. “While my stepbrother received a doctor’s diagnosis, underwent a clearly defined treatment protocol and had his expenses covered by insurance, there was no road map for my daughter,” she wrote.
Instead Hilgers was met by healthcare providers “who either minimized my concerns or weren’t sure what to do.” She had to spend weeks calling programs, asking questions and figuring out what her insurance would (and wouldn’t) cover. Finally, she entered her daughter into a 45-day inpatient rehab for which she had to pay all costs upfront.
Roadblocks to Addiction Treatment
Only 10 percent of the 21 million Americans with a substance use disorder will receive treatment, according to a 2016 surgeon general’s report. Hilgers touched on a few of the reasons why.
For one, many healthcare professionals are simply not trained to diagnose addiction – with most medical schools in the U.S. devoting a mere 12 hours to substance abuse, according to the NYT article. There are many physicians who are not well trained in diagnosing substance use disorders and often those physicians are not familiar with the appropriate programs that will effectively treat addiction. Any professional who is working with addicted patients should be certified and licensed in their field to work with these patients and should have extensive experience working with these complex issues. Families should seek out physicians whenever possible that are board certified in addiction medicine and understand the unique needs of those suffering with substance use disorders.
Second, there are no national standards of care for treating addiction, and the rehab industry is “regulated piecemeal, state by state,” wrote Hilgers. Certainly, there are very high-quality and ethical programs providing excellent addiction treatment, but often families like Hilgers are not familiar with the available resources and don’t know how to tell the good programs from the bad ones. It’s important for families to seek the guidance of a professional that understands the needs of someone suffering with addiction, is familiar with the appropriate resources in their area and can recommend the best programs or other treatment options available to effectively address an individual’s needs.
What’s more, treatment can be expensive and while the Affordable Care Act helps in some cases, and more efforts are underway by various advocacy groups, industry leaders and health insurers, there’s still a long way to go. Often families don’t understand how to navigate the insurance system and they are not aware of what the financial costs can be to treat a chronic illness over the long term. We need an easier system for families to understand and access readily so that anyone can receive treatment the same way they would for any other serious medical problem. Unfortunately, there are many roadblocks for those seeking addiction treatment and often the individual becomes discouraged and gives up on getting help because of how challenging accessing care can be.
For Hilgers, help for the millions of people suffering from addiction, along with those in recovery, can’t come soon enough. “[They] deserve the same level of gold-standard care that saved my stepbrother and my daughter, both of whom are now in remission,” she wrote.
There are programs providing effective, evidence-based treatment for addiction but often individuals need guidance to find these resources and to ensure they receive the best possible treatment. Unfortunately, many families search for addiction treatment resources on the internet and fall prey to providers that are not meeting the minimum standards of care offered for treatment of these illnesses.
Let Us Help You
FRS is licensed by the Florida Department of Children and Families and we are members of several professional organizations that hold us to very high standards of competency and ethics. We are always available to help you or someone you love get on the road to recovery. We can provide evaluations, outpatient treatment programs or intervention/therapeutic consulting services to ensure you find the best possible treatment for your loved one and avoid the many pitfalls that sometimes families encounter when looking for help. Our providers are licensed, certified and uniquely qualified to provide the most effective and innovative approaches to help those suffering with substance use disorders and mental health issues. To learn more about our programs, call today: 305-595-7378.