Drug addiction is a medical problem

Here's Hillary Clinton's plan for a new way to look at a medical condition: http://wapo.st/1O9Uqma.

Finally, there’s a national plan more sophisticated than a soundbite. The gaping hole in the social safety net has allowed far too many Americans to descend into the nightmare of addiction.

Nevada, in particular, has been hit hard by the tragedy of heroin addiction and overdose deaths, as a close reading of the obituaries in newspapers around the state reveals. It’s no surprise that our last place finish in the number of behavioral health professionals and a severe lack of state funding for treatment has led to 87 percent of Nevadans with drug addiction receiving no treatment last year. Alcoholics fared even worse. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administation’s “behavioral health barometer” for 2014, 95 percent of Nevadans who needed treatment for alcoholism didn’t get it.

It’s nothing new. Nevada has never been a progressive state when it comes to social services, preferring that its residents rely on friends, family, churches and their bootstraps to deal with their troubles. Corporations have long enjoyed the benefits of a disposable workforce. When one casino worker flames out over too much alcohol or meth, there’s always another waiting in the wings. And if a few kids are caught up in the madness, well, their parents should be paying more attention.

Nevada’s problems are far worse than the national average, but it’s no picnic in other states either, as almost 23 million Americans have some sort of substance abuse disorder. Less than a tenth access treatment. Prison has been our national response when the drugs cause too many burglaries or the alcohol leads to an excess of DUI arrests.

So it’s incredibly refreshing that the substance abuse epidemic is penetrating political campaigns at the highest level.

Hillary Clinton became the first candidate to release a comprehensive plan to address drug and alcohol addiction earlier this month, proposing a $10 billion initiative to prevent and treat substance abuse disorders and support people in recovery. It’s going to take that level of response to make a dent in this scourge that affects so many families.

We know that funding prevention works. The “Crystal Darkness” campaign against meth, led by Nevada First Lady Dawn Gibbons seven years ago, had a dramatic impact on Nevada teenagers, although meth continues to be the primary drug of choice for Washoe County’s drug court defendants. That work needs to be sustained and extended to prevent the worrisome growth in prescription drug abuse and intravenous heroin use by local youth. Clinton’s plan will underwrite peer mentoring, leadership programs and school-based programming.

The biggest gap in Nevada is the lack of publicly funded treatment to provide access to those ready to confront their addiction. Clinton calls for expansion of in-patient and out-patient services as well as increasing the number of trained providers, with a special focus on peer recovery coaches and enforcing insurance parity laws. She also wants alternatives to incarceration for low-level and non-violent drug offenders.

Clinton’s proposal requires $1 from the state for every $4 in federal funding, a partnership that seems more than worth the money since Nevada has so few treatment resources.

Two other planks of the Clinton plan were addressed by the 2015 Legislature, improving access to naloxone to stop opioid overdoses from becoming fatal and requiring physicians to consult the prescription drug monitoring program to reduce doctor-shopping.

Clinton knows that evidence-based treatment works and recovery is possible. She’s clear that the federal emphasis on enforcement of drug laws is an abject failure, costing us billions of dollars and engendering untold tragedy. Nearly everyone understands that Nancy Reagan’s vapid Just Say No campaign is not worth repeating.

We should challenge other presidential candidates to stop their sniping long enough to produce their own plans to address this public health epidemic and save lives.