As of late, repealing and replacing Obamacare has been the leading headline in countless news cycles across America. Many Democrats have been strongly against the Republican effort, arguing that ending Medicaid expansion will only further fuel our drug epidemic. Senators such as Bob Casey (PA) and Joe Manchin (WV), and even some Republicans such as Rob Portman (OH), worry what the end of Medicaid expansion would mean for the thousands in need of drug and alcohol treatment. While the expansion has surely offered treatment options and resources to those who would otherwise go without, there is more to the story that has yet to be told.
Recent studies reveal interesting points surrounding Medicaid expansion and our current drug crisis, which we feel need to be addressed. While this coverage is beneficial for those who are willing to accept help, it has become a crutch for others who continue to actively use drugs and alcohol. Rather than utilizing Medicaid to lead them to the road of recovery, they have instead taken advantage of the system entirely and use state-funded benefits to feed their addiction.
Medicaid May Be Fueling The Fire
Some will certainly argue that Medicaid has been a “God-send” for those struggling with addiction, but the numbers cannot be ignored. In 2015, the seven states that led the country in drug overdose deaths all participated in Medicaid expansion, which included Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Kentucky, Ohio, West Virginia, Massachusetts, and our home state of Pennsylvania. Now, one may think this is merely a coincidence, but take Ohio for instance. The Buckeye State, which enrolled more than 700,000 individuals in the Medicaid expansion program, has been hit especially hard by opioid addiction and overdoses. Coroner Kent Harshbarger of Montgomery County, Ohio estimates the state will hit 10,000 overdose deaths for 2017; more than were recorded for the entire country in 1990.
It is important to note that while many overdoses have been directly related to heroin, Fentanyl, and other synthetic drugs, legal opioid prescriptions have played a tremendous role in this epidemic. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), half of all overdose deaths involved legal opioid prescriptions in 2015. Additionally, 1 in 4 Medicaid patients received an opioid prescription in 2015 and over 30% of those patients were given more than a month’s supply of the powerful painkillers. And finally, a study of Washington State conducted by the CDC concluded that a Medicaid patient was 5.7 times more likely to die of an opioid overdose, compared to someone who had private health insurance.
A Means For Addicts To Use More
Correlations between state and government funded benefits and drug use have unfortunately been documented before. Take for instance when the food-stamp program expanded nationally. EBT cards began showing up in numerous drug arrests across the country. In early 2012, Maine established a DEA task force to address upper and mid-level drug dealers. What they found was most surprising at the time. In the course of their investigation, several EBT (Electronic Benefits Transfer) cards were seized in various arrests. Soon the team learned that drug dealers now accept EBT cards as payment and/or collateral from drug users. So, rather than utilizing these benefits to feed themselves or their families, addicts simply wait to barter their government funds for more drugs.
Furthermore, as medication-assisted treatment grows in popularity, Medicaid enrollees will have the opportunity to get their hands on more medications, such as Suboxone and Methadone. Similar to EBT cards, addicts have been known to use these medications as payment to their dealers, as well as take them in conjunction with other illicit substances. Mixing these already addictive medications with another drug, such as cocaine or Xanax, only raises the potential for overdose and death.
What Is The Solution?
Unfortunately, there is no quick and easy fix to the crisis in which we find ourselves. There are many reasons as to how and why opioid addiction has gotten so out-of-hand, and therefore, just as many elements that need to be addressed. Considering how poisonous prescription opioids have become, several states have begun to implement restrictions on prescribing practices and have initiated drop-off locations for unused prescriptions. Furthermore, many medical schools have realized the need for better training and education among physicians, and are now developing curriculum specific to addictive diseases and how to better handle those diagnosed with said disorders.
Yes, these advances are noteworthy, among other steps the government has taken in regards to addiction, but we cannot ignore the clear correlation between Medicaid expansion and opioid addiction. Politicians are fighting to keep Medicaid in place, using the argument that it will solve the drug epidemic. Nevertheless, for those that are unwilling to receive help, Medicaid has become a means for them to continue feeding their addiction, and in turn is costing us millions of dollars each year.
If we are to continue having conversations about how repealing and replacing Obamacare would negatively impact those in need of addiction treatment, it is imperative that our lawmakers highlight the issues we have discussed today. The severity of prescription opioid use and overdose rates among Medicaid enrollees, along with the barter system in which they have created cannot be overlooked. If the focus is truly on helping addicts receive treatment, our politicians need to concentrate their efforts on those who actually want the help. Allowing for millions to remain on Medicaid, when clearly so many are not ready to get sober, has proven to only add fuel to the fire.
Contact Clearbrook For Addiction Treatment
Are you or someone you love currently plagued by the disease of addiction? If so, you should know that there is hope, and we have seen it firsthand. For 45 years, Clearbrook Treatment Centers has been providing quality drug and alcohol treatment to the chemically dependent person, and in doing so, we have had the privilege of watching countless individuals recover from a seemingly hopeless state of mind and body. If you are ready to take the first step and receive help, please contact our Admissions Specialists today. It is never too late to start over. Recovery is possible, and it begins here!