At the end of last month, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Brenda Fitzgerald resigned after it was discovered that she purchased stock in the tobacco industry; a clear conflict of interest and a potential violation of ethics. At around the same time, it was announced that Jeff Bezos, Warren Buffet and Jamie Dimon will be partnering to try and fix soaring healthcare costs. And finally, in mid-January, it was announced that leading hospital systems will be making their own generic drugs in an effort to circumvent the often problematic, convoluted and expensive process of dealing with pharmaceutical companies. These three developments signal an overall glaring truth: it’s time to re-examine the costs and dispensation of healthcare, including addiction treatment in America.
The Setup: Prescription Practices in the United States
Last year, over 64,000 Americans died from drug overdose, another record high to match record-breaking numbers since 2014. In one year, drug overdose killed more Americans than the entire Vietnam War. Despite the culpability of prescription opioids and benzodiazepines in these astronomical fatality rates, these drugs continue to be the default course of treatment for myriad physical and psychological conditions. In addition to being more sparing with these powerful and potentially lethal drugs, it’s critical that researchers and clinicians undertake more vigorous exploration of viable alternatives to treating chronic pain and other issues for which these medications are so often prescribed. It’s also important to apply our knowledge of how these drugs affect different populations, such as senior citizens, to the development of targeted and customized substance abuse care. Addiction treatment in America must address the prescription drug epidemic on a more active and more realistic level.
Cost and Access
One of the most immediate problems with addiction treatment in America is that rising costs and decreased access freeze out patients who genuinely need help. It’s much easier for Americans to access the drugs that render them addicted than to access treatment once they find themselves unable to stop; the reality is that it should be the other way around. A little more than ten percent of the people that need addiction care in this country actually receive it; some contributing factors to this phenomenon are the long waiting lists, insurance roadblocks and regulatory hoops through which patients are often forced to jump when they finally make the decision to seek help and rebuild their lives.
What is the Way Forward?
Taking a top-down look at the overall healthcare structure and addiction treatment in American is the first step to offering cost-saving innovations, developing new treatments and increasing care access to vulnerable patients. For an issue that has been so heavily politicized, stakeholders have apparently failed to do the necessary auditing to really fix systemic flaws in American healthcare. Decreasing costs, increasing access and innovating treatment protocol should be top priority. Once we address, these fundamental issues, we can start making significant strides toward improving the collective health of the country.