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The Verbiage Has Changed, The Stigma Remains

Addiction is defined as a chronic brain disorder. Research is now stating that addiction is a disease. That we should no longer treat it or think of it as a choice or a behavioral problem but as a treatable, chronic, survivable disease. The research is available to the public, but it seems no one is interested in the research.

In 2008, The Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equality Act was passed.

This bill requires that both mental health and addiction be treated with the same comprehensive coverage as any other long term chronic disease. The bill has been shoved away and ignored by both the insurance industry and the medical community.

Here we are in the year 2016 and the disease of addiction continues to be the only chronic, treatable disease that has limitations placed on much needed lifesaving treatment. Addiction has become an epidemic in this country. Unfortunately, the stigma that surrounds the disease continues to place roadblocks to comprehensive and affordable treatment.

To combat this stigma, we have gone so far as changing the verbiage. We are no longer using the words addict, crackhead, or junkie. Both those suffering from the disease and the actual disease of addiction have been made politically correct. We now refer to those suffering as being affected by Substance Abuse Disorder. Addiction is also now know as the disease of Substance Use Disorder. So I question why does Addiction remain the most stigmatized disease in this country? Why does the insurance industry limit the treatment of this disease to 30 days per year, refusing to pay for the extended stay that research has proven to be necessary for recovery. I’ve never encountered a cancer patient who was given 30 days of treatment and then left to their own devices. Smokers, who one could argue caused their cancer by smoking a known carcinogen continue to receive whatever it takes in an attempt to save their lives. If they relapse, they are retreated. How I wish addiction was treated like cancer.

Why are medications to help those suffering from addiction so difficult to obtain and purchase? Medication Assisted Treatment has proven to save lives. Medication like Buprenorphine which diminishes the effects of dependency on Opioids has a limited number of allowable prescribers. These prescribers are also limited to the number of patients they are permitted to treat. Yet, any doctor is free to write a script for opioids. There has never been a restriction in the number of doctors who can prescribe the poison. Only on doctors who are trying to save the addicts lives. In all my years of nursing, I’ve never seen the prescribing of insulin or cardiac medications under such a restriction.

Methadone is another life saving medication for the disease of opioid addiction. It changes neuro responses blocking the euphoric effect thus allowing people to recover from their disease. Addicts who are receiving Methadone must line up outside the clinic and wait in line for their daily dose as Methadone must be taken under the supervision of a physician. If you miss a day due to illness or employment hours, you are kicked out of the program. I’ve heard many needing this life saving drug complain about the long lines and long waits. Stating they feel like cattle being lined up for the slaughter. Funny, I really don’t know of any other life saving medication where the recipient was put on public display. If the community didn’t know you were an addict they do now. Where’s HIPAA when you need it? How many diabetics do you know that must stand in line to receive life saving insulin? Why isn’t addiction treated like diabetes?

We might have the research. We might have changed the verbiage. What we haven’t been able to do is stop the stigma that continues to plague the disease of addiction.

Public perception has been the last thing to change. Those affected in our families are still considered the “dirty ones.” The public continues to feel that addiction is a “self inflicted” disease. Our kids chose to do this to themselves and now rather than be deserving of life saving treatment they deserve to be punished. How many cardiac patients wind up in jail after a second heart attack because they did not follow doctors orders. How many diabetics are left alone in a cell without medical treatment?

Addicts are thought of as unworthy and disposable. They are considered unproductive, lazy and a waste of human life. Addiction is by far the most stigmatized disease in this country. It continues to be the most misunderstood, mistreated chronic disease of all time. Even as the cause of the deaths of beautiful talented people came to light the stigma continued to rear its ugly head. It’s too easy to look beyond the fact that addiction does not discriminate, only people do.

We must learn to look beyond the disease. We must treat those suffering from addiction as we do every other chronic, treatable disease. We must change our mentality and recognize addicts as human beings deserving of any and all treatment to allow them a chance at recovery. We must remember that no one wants to suffer from cancer, diabetes or addiction. We must let go of the misguided perception of addiction and treat it with the same care and respect given to any other chronic disease. Both the insurance industry and the medical community need to work together to ensure that the out dated stigma dies so that those suffering from addiction have a chance to live.