State strategy places substance abuse emphasis where it belongs
By Heidi Kammer
Heidi Kammer is the center director of Recovery Resource Center, a division of RESOURCE. She is also a board member representing Hennepin County with the Minnesota Association of Resources for Recovery & Chemical Health.
Substance abuse may be the greatest public health and safety issue facing our community, state and nation. It costs our nation more than $510 billion a year, according to the National Institute of Health. Our state spends more than $5 billion annually on alcohol-related issues alone, meaning the true amount is much greater, when we consider both alcohol and drugs.
Unfortunately, our emergency rooms, jails, homeless shelters and prisons have become an expensive alternative to treatment for so many suffering the chronic illness of substance abuse. This is particularly unfortunate when we have so many quality community-based prevention, treatment and recovery centers with the capacity and expertise to prevent and treat these illnesses.
The first state substance abuse strategy, which was released Sept. 12 by the Minnesota Department of Human Services, lays the foundation for an effective and efficient integrated substance abuse and mental health system of care. The next day, MPR ran a piece on how the strategy will help us deal with our growing heroin and opiate problems.
With this new strategic foundation in place, we need to let go of the historical belief that substance abuse is a moral issue, when it is really a significant health issue. Current research clearly indicates that substance abuse and addiction are chronic diseases and illnesses with behavioral aspects, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).
All of us know someone who has experienced the emotional and financial costs of substance abuse. Shame and blame often are placed on individuals affected by substance abuse and addiction — until a family member, friend, colleague or someone we love or care about struggles with it. Then we realize it is a devastating illness.
While the emotional costs related to substance abuse are immeasurable, it's estimated by the National Institute on Drug Abuse that for every dollar we spend on prevention and recovery, we save $12 in health care and criminal justice costs. Unfortunately, SAMHSA estimates that only10 percent of individuals affected receive the care they need and deserve, due to access issues, negative stigma and lack of comprehensive care.
SAMHSA also estimates that 70 to 90 percent of individuals and families who receive treatment achieve recovery, better health and improved quality of life. Imagine the savings in emotional pain and taxpayer dollars (based on the $12 per dollar investment) if 100 percent of individuals who needed treatment actually received it.
The gains made by those in recovery are comparable to those who are managing other health conditions, such as hypertension, diabetes, asthma and heart disease. Treatment for substance abuse is as effective as treatment for other chronic and acute health conditions.
The state has taken an important step toward creating a health care system that ensures comprehensive substance abuse and mental health care. We can save everyone a lot of financial and emotional pain if we remove barriers to treatment, including the stigma associated with substance abuse.
Let's rally behind our new state substance abuse strategy. We can do this through conversations with policy makers and treatment providers and through conversations with people we know and work with in our schools, homes, faith centers, workplaces and communities.
Accepting and understanding that addiction is an illness that can be treated will ensure a healthier and safer Minnesota now and for future generations.