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Becky Vaughn

Vice President, Addictions

Obama Visits State with Leading Overdose Rates: What Will It Take to Stop the Epidemic?

October 26, 2015 | Addictions | Comments
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On October 21, 2015, President Barack Obama set off to the state plagued with the nation’s highest rate of overdose deaths: West Virginia. There, he hosted a meaningful forum with local citizens on how to deal with the prescription drug abuse and heroin epidemic.

“For a long time, we’ve been addressing the [drug] supply side…but we continue to underinvest in the demand side – and the prevention and treatment that is necessary…For a long time, treatment has been seen as second class to conviction and incarceration,” the President said in his remarks.

He went on to emphasize that Congress needs to sufficiently fund community-based treatment, noting that “The budget is not yet reflective of our awareness to emphasize treatment…the Affordable Care Act covers drug abuse treatment – but if the facilities aren’t there, then the coverage doesn’t mean much…We’re going to have to build, fund and support more treatment centers locally.”

We know that treatment centers have long fought to preserve and increase federal and state funding for a robust treatment environment. Now is our opportunity to bring specific solutions.

During the National Council’s 2015 Hill Day, a 600+ advocate strong-arm asked Congress to support the Comprehensive Addictions and Recovery Act, which will provide organizational grants to offer prevention, treatment and recovery activities,  and to keep critical funding, like that for the Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Block Grant, fully intact so providers don’t have to forever struggle to do more with less.

Even more crucial: what funding is needed to support the meaningful alliances between different community sectors (e.g., law enforcement, education, social services)?

Charleston Chief of Police Captain Brent Webster said that since 2013 his department offered 39 people an option: get arrested for minor drug dealing (activity that mostly supported their own addiction) or get treatment and support for their addiction. In that time, only one—one—of those 39 was arrested again. Community addiction treatment providers have a variety of ways they can partner with law enforcement to build programs and improve collaboration. To start, they can begin building rapport and increasing education by working together to offer crisis intervention team (CIT) and Mental Health First Aid for Public Safety trainings.

At the forum, Cary Dixon shared the ranging emotions she and other parents feel through the arc of a child’s addiction. She shared her sense of relief the day her son was sent to jail. Finally, she knew he had a place to rest…away from drugs. She knew he’d be safe there.

When incarceration becomes relief: we’ve got work to do. If people—often desperate for help—consistently feel help is unavailable, we need to make our presence known. The National Council’s website includes a find a provider feature that lists its members by state and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s Treatment Locator also offers a list of community behavioral health services. If your organization, your center, your practice is not on these lists, then how are you maximizing your visibility as a community problem solver? Do medical and other providers know to refer to you and trust you as a referral?

View the full event here.

The President brought critical attention to the issue. Now, let’s keep that attention. Let’s raise our voices about what our community treatment centers offer to address these problems, and what they need to address the growing demand for services.