President Donald Trump on Tuesday rejected a plan to declare the opioid epidemic a national emergency, though local health professionals say the federal government can still take specific steps to help addicts get help here in McLean County.
Trump’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis issued a report last week that recommended declaration of a national emergency, which would have removed some federal barriers and put pressure on Congress for additional funding. Trump declined to declare that national emergency, telling reporters Tuesday he plans to focus on prevention and law-and-order measures.
The commission also recommended stronger enforcement of a federal law that, for purposes of insurance, treats mental health and addiction services the same as other medical services. That law—to ensure health plans can’t impose less favorable benefits for substance use and mental health diagnoses—must be enforced, agreed Joan Hartman, vice president of behavioral health at Bloomington-based Chestnut Health Systems, which offers addiction counseling and treatment services.
“There are a lot of insurance companies that won’t pay for detox services for opioid dependence because it’s not life-threatening,” Hartman said on GLT’s Sound Ideas. “But if you talk to someone who has an addiction to an opioid, it feels pretty life-threatening when they’re going through withdrawal. If you’ve ever experienced the flu, multiply that times 10, and that’s what withdrawal from an opioid feels like.”
Funding is the other key issue, Hartman said. The commission’s report also calls for expanded access to drug treatment for Medicaid recipients. Critics say that recent Republican plans to overhaul the Affordable Care Act would reduce access to drug treatment for many addicts.
“We have to fund Medicaid. The lack of Medicaid funds has been the biggest barrier for people who want to receive treatment services,” Hartman said. “We have to stop playing the shell game where we just move money from one pot to another to address this.”
McLean County saw 19 opioid-related deaths in 2015, then 16 in 2016, and seven so far in 2017, said Coroner Kathy Davis. They’re typically accidental overdoses on drugs like heroin, fentanyl, methadone, oxycodone, morphine, and other synthetic opioids.
The average age is around 40. Today’s average heroin user is white, male, living in a small urban or rural region, according to Davis’ research.
Davis agrees with Trump’s focus on prevention—keeping people off opioids in the first place. That means education of young people, as well as the doctors who prescribe medications.
The face of opioid abuse is more diverse than people think, Hartman and Davis said.
“It’s across the board. It’s the wealthy. It’s people that don’t have money. It’s everyone. It’s very devastating,” Davis said. “The ones that are addicts, they don’t want to be there.”
“We want people taken care of,” she said. “I don’t want to see any more deaths.”
You can also listen to GLT's full interview with Davis and Hartman:
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