Last week, USA Today published a heartfelt Op/Ed piece authored by our good friend, Senator George McGovern, who lamented, “little meaningful progress against this disease” in the 17 years since losing his daughter, Terry, to addiction. He pointed out the, “fundamental failures in today’s system of care”, and acknowledged the psychological barriers of fear, stigma and shame that keep millions of Americans away from the help they need.
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Estimates show nearly 23 million Americans have a problem with drugs or alcohol, with 17,000 of them living in Sioux Falls. But a recovery movement underway in Sioux Falls is poised to sweep the nation.
Today’s recovery revolution is the most significant development in decades in the fields of addiction, treatment and recovery. People in recovery are organizing and mobilizing and service delivery systems are being transformed in communities across the country. Even those charged with administering the public sector have come around to the notion of emphasizing recovery. I have great respect for the thought leaders and practitioners who’ve taught us so much.
Today’s status quo is not acceptable. We live in the most advanced civilization in history and yet we haven’t figured out how to solve our greatest public health challenge; addiction. 23 Million Americans suffer from addiction and only about 10% get the help they need any given year and those who do are oftentimes provided with time-constrained episodes of acute care. Something has got to change.
What are our natural instincts when a family member acquires a potentially fatal chronic disease? Love? Fear? Compassion? Understanding? Sadness? Empathy?
We may even feel like we are walking in the shoes of the afflicted member as they attempt to learn new tools to manage their chronic condition.
These days, we know that roughly 23 Million Americans suffer from something called substance use disorder, a term that is defined in much detail by medical professionals primarily for billing and reimbursement purposes. The criteria referenced in the definition relate almost exclusively to the consumption or the effects of consumption of a substance. They are also time-limited. In other words, if one hasn’t met the criteria for the last 12 months, they no longer qualify.
The greatest dysfunction relating to addiction may be the addiction field.
Hardly a week goes by during which we aren't bombarded with the sad news of the death of yet another celebrity who "struggled with addiction". Oftentimes, the treatment careers of these poor souls have been long chronicled in the accompanying media frenzy. All too often, this scrutiny reveals celebrities receiving multiple episodes of treatment, behind some pretty imposing looking gates at ultra-exclusive and ultra-expensive facilities in the hills of Malibu, CA, or the like.
Imagine a nation that understands and treats addiction just like any other chronic disease. We know just as much about it as we know about any other health issue. We are just as likely to solicit the advice of our family doctor as we are for any other type of issue about which we might be open to suggestion. Stigmatized labels like, “alcoholic”, “drug addict” and “substance abuser” are relics of the past. We have come to know that addiction is an equal opportunity disease, affecting roughly 10% of any adult population, regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, education, religion and socio-economics.
Historically, employers have gotten a bad rap for not being sympathetic to those who suffer from addiction. The prevailing perception is that employers have focused on identifying those who suffer and weeding them out rather than getting them the help they need. Not surprisingly then, employers have not been viewed as potential partners in the resolution of alcohol and drug problems.