A few months ago, the state of Florida, one of the biggest providers of addiction treatment in the country, had the opportunity to send a clear message to the substance abuse treatment industry with the passage of HB 823, co-sponsored by Rep. Bill Hager, R-Boca Raton while the Senate version, SB 1138 was sponsored by Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth. If it would have passed, it would have targeted the unethical business and marketing practices destroying an industry tasked with saving lives.
Hager even filed an amendment to the bill that would have authorized and funded a pilot program that could have had national implications to be headed up by Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg. The program would have coordinated state and local agencies, law-enforcement entities and investigative units to, finally, regulate an industry that is incapable of policing itself.
President Barack Obama continues to advocate for $1.1 billion in additional funding to combat opioid addiction, and politicians are standing up and sharing their own personal experiences of family members who have recovered from the disease of addiction. In light of all of this, the legislation in Florida should have sailed through with bipartisan support, yet it was oddly pushed under the rug. Instead what we got was a watered down task force with little funding or authority to make any type of significant impact. Sadly, that came after the Palm Beach Post and investigative journalist Christine Stapleton completed a thorough investigation that highlighted a $1 billion industry in Palm Beach County alone that is plagued with systematic fraud, ethical lapses and questionable business practices.
While reputable operators certainly do exist, they are outnumbered by “gun-slingers” that justify playing Russian roulette with the lives of those who struggle with the disease of addiction and mental illness. Almost 10 percent of our population struggles with addiction; that’s 30 million people. More Americans die each year from drug overdoses than in car accidents — about 120 people a day; over 40,000 annually.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, almost 70 percent of high school students will have tried alcohol, half will have taken an illegal drug, nearly 40 percent will have smoked a cigarette, and more than 20 percent will have used a prescription drug for a non-medical purpose.
We spend billions of dollars providing emergency funding in an attempt to combat diseases like swine flu and Ebola, while we neglect to fund prevention and intervention programs at appropriate levels and fail to create regulatory agencies that police that funding. Instead from one side of our mouths we continue to scream disease while perpetuating the stigma that substance use disorders are based in some type of moral failing.
Why are regulations and high levels of funding so important to our future? The reality is that we are in the throes of a global epidemic. While many Americans have a difficult time understanding a disease that removes the power of choice and like a tornado, annihilates everything in its path, we can certainly all agree that we must find a solution to a crisis that is destroying the very fabric of our nation.
Time is not our friend, and we are a country at war. From our big cities to our small towns, rich or poor, addiction does not discriminate. It is decimating our consciousness, it is destroying our souls, and it is threatening our internal national security.
We must support progressive legislation, increased funding and regulatory agencies that have real authority to police, investigate and prosecute those who would take advantage and put our loved ones — who are already at risk of dying — into further jeopardy. Additionally, We must reach out to our legislators on both the federal and state levels and demand that they regulate an addiction industry that is failing those with substance use disorders. We need to raise our voices and raise them loud; our future and our survival are at stake.
Fred Menachem, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Reform Advocate, POLITICO CAUCUS Team and frequent contributor to Miami Herald, Sun-Sentinel and Palm Beach Post