These are trying times for those suffering with addiction, but also full of potential for professionals to make great strides in providing recovery treatment options. It’s important to address the problem for what it is. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) says that in 2013 there were 267,000 heroin addicts in the United States. Opiate addiction alone costs our nation $25 billion per year. Substance use in total, including all drugs legal and illegal as well as alcohol, costs $600 billion a year in healthcare expenses. A total of 46% of all healthcare costs were related to addiction and addiction treatment. Despite data that shows that every dollar spent in healthcare for substance use disorders ends up having a $7 return on investment for taxpayers, support hasn’t been adequate.
Meanwhile, a strong social stigma, financial barriers and political uncertainty are all leaving millions of substance-dependent individuals without the care they may need. Harm reduction for these diseases is being gauged in ways not seen by any other diseases… criminal behavior, sexually transmitted diseases, and other high-risk factors are all coupled into the long-term effects of addiction diseases.
Women are uniquely sensitive to becoming addicted. Worse yet, addicted women are having children at 2.5 times the rate of non-addicted women, passing this hereditary disorder on to their children who are born addicted. These children spend their first waking moments fighting withdrawal symptoms. If they’re born in a hospital, they are rushed to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) to undergo detox, where they must be gently weaned off their substance dependency. This kind of care is one of the most expensive forms of healthcare on taxpayers and individuals. Nonetheless, even when successful, these children are still at a lifetime risk for increased criminality, poor school performance, and reduced social skills. Tracking of these children has historically been inadequate to provide for their growing needs. Unless informed by parents, many children grow up never even knowing they were born addicted, or how that could shape their future.
Slowly but surely, we’re unraveling some of the policies and stigmas that have set substance use treatment back for decades. In 2016, substance dependency was finally mandated as required coverage under healthcare plans. Treatment sites such as methadone clinics have provided safer alternatives to the detox methods of the past. Social campaigns, such as Facebook groups, Narcotics Anonymous, and many more, have sprouted across the country, providing not only the informational and tangible help that victims of addiction need, but also a social support hub with encouraging, dedicated communities to combat the disease at a local level. New, unique treatment centers with specialty services also exist, which offer community-based healing and recovery, including the option to care for children on site and to treat pregnant women, so mothers can recover without being separated from their babies. New Directions for Women, where I serve as Chief Executive Officer, is one such program.