As drugmakers face billions in legal settlements and judgments, we must keep our eye on what will truly defeat the opioid crisis.
The challenge lies not only in the magnitude of the problem but also in systemic failures we must fix. Throwing more money at existing services is simply not enough.
Consider this: About 160,000 people die each year from chronic alcohol disease and drug overdoses, yet it’s estimated that only about 20% of people with substance use disorders get access to timely, high-quality care that puts them on a successful path to recovery.
Addiction has been categorized by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as a chronic recurring brain disease that is treatable, but our healthcare system is woefully incapable of addressing the urgency of this epidemic.
First, we must acknowledge our addiction crisis is also a mental health crisis.
There is also an acute shortage of qualified clinicians with the appropriate credentials to treat patients suffering from addiction, and many providers are grossly overworked and underpaid.
Patients needing more intensive therapy often struggle to find access to treatment or lack insurance that covers evidence-based treatment proven to save lives. Most concerning is that despite clear medical evidence to the contrary, too many Americans view substance use disorder as a moral failing—a character flaw. As a result, the stigma of both addiction and mental illness is deeply entrenched in our culture.
This results in individuals and families struggling in isolation and healthcare providers treating patients with the disease differently. Fortunately, there is a way out, but it requires all of us as healthcare leaders to come together and define a path for system transformation. Already, health insurers that cover 250 million lives have partnered with national nonprofit Shatterproof to agree on eight National Principles of Care.
These principles set the foundation for ensuring high-quality care that meets evidence-based standards and include: screening in every healthcare setting; a personal plan for every patient; fast access to treatment; behavioral health care from legitimate providers; coordinated care for every illness; medication for addiction treatment; ongoing and long-term disease management; and support for recovery outside the doctor’s office.
We must also help individuals and families identify high-quality providers. Shatterproof is developing a provider rating system that will standardize the measurement of addiction treatment programs across all levels of care and types of treatment.
This system will help people access high-quality care while avoiding the myriad recovery organizations that don’t follow the evidence-based practice, ultimately saving lives and improving outcomes.
It’s time for us to replace old labels and judgments with compassion and care so individuals and families who are struggling can come out into the open and receive the same care and support as anyone else.
Simply stated, we must not only change our system, we must also change our culture.
Andrew Rowe is executive chairman of AllMed Healthcare Management. He is also on the advisory board of Shatterproof, a national nonprofit.