Addicts need access to inpatient care
Julianne Malin traces her son’s heroin addiction to a high school football injury.
He underwent surgery and was prescribed prescription painkillers, to which he became addicted. Eventually, he moved on to heroin because it was cheaper and easier to obtain. After years of abuse and failed attempts to get clean, he is living in a halfway house for recovering addicts.
“It’s really hard to get an addict to the point where they’re ready to quit,” Malin said.
I spoke with Malin a couple weeks ago, and she described her son’s struggles in great detail. It was a familiar tale, mirroring other tales of addiction I’ve heard. Her son, a 28-year-old graduate of Schalmont High School, lied to her and stole from her. He relapsed numerous times. He did a brief stint in jail, then moved into a homeless shelter.
“I let him come home, but he was using, and I made him leave,” Malin recalled. “It’s very hard to put a sick person out of your home, but I knew it had to be done.”
When her son was finally ready to quit using, Malin took a drastic step. She mortgaged her home and sent her son to an inpatient treatment program in Arizona. The cost: $60,000.
On Tuesday, Malin plans to attend a rally at the state Capitol in Albany sponsored by a group called Friends of Recovery New York.
The goal of the event is to push for better access to inpatient substance abuse treatment programs. Malin said many addicts have difficulty getting their health insurance plans to cover the treatment they need, particularly if it’s an inpatient program. Because such programs come with a high price tag, few people can afford to pay for them out of pocket, she said.
The federal Affordable Care Act treats alcoholism and drug addiction as chronic diseases and requires health insurance plans to cover both outpatient and inpatient treatment. If insurance companies are balking at paying for inpatient care or telling patients to try cheaper outpatient programs first, it’s probably because long-term inpatient substance abuse programs are expensive.
Leslie Moran, a spokeswoman for the New York Health Plan Association, said if New York were to require more coverage for substance abuse treatment than mandated by the Affordable Care Act, the state would be on the hook for the additional costs.
“That needs to be part of the discussion,” Moran said.
With heroin addiction on the upswing both nationally and locally, there’s clearly a demand for high-quality treatment, especially if you believe, as I do, that addiction should be dealt with as a public health problem. Without treatment, addicts are unlikely to stop abusing drugs. And treating them like criminals or social pariahs will accomplish little.
Statistics suggest the vast majority of addicts are not getting the help they need. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, an estimated 23.1 million Americans needed treatment in 2012 for a problem related to drugs or alcohol, but only about 2.5 million — about 11 percent — received treatment from a “specialty facility.”
One Capital Region parent, who asked to remain anonymous, also struggled to get her heroin-addicted adult child — she didn’t want to specify a gender — into an inpatient drug treatment program. She said was shocked when her “very good insurance plan” denied coverage even though her benefits package includes inpatient care.
“What most insurance companies pay for is detox,” she said, “and that’s only a few days.”
Her child was eventually accepted into an inpatient program, but it’s paid for by Medicaid.
“I really feel addiction is a disease,” she said. “I was afraid [my child] was going to die every day.”
Toward the end of my conversation with Malin, I asked her to tell me about her son. What is he like as person? She smiled.
“He’s so smart,” she said. “He builds things. He’s so good with his hands. He’s very personable. He has a good spirit.”
She described her advocacy for better drug treatment as “a calling.”
“I feel like a lot of good can come out of it,” she explained.
I, for one, hope she’s right.