Darren Ripley, Coordinator, The Maine Alliance for Addiction Recovery
Maine has a serious problem with substance abuse and addiction. The headlines are an almost daily reminder of the deadly toll that drugs and/or alcohol have on individuals and families from all walks of life. But despite the grim statistics and tragedies, there is hope. Treatment works and people can get better. Recovery is possible.
As the 25th anniversary of National Recovery Month comes to a close, it’s important not only to recognize the success of Maine people in recovery but also those who want to join them as recovering individuals but who lack access to health insurance.
Treatment works – it is an effective tool for achieving recovery from substance use disorders. Hundreds of Mainers attended events across the state during September to share their stories about the importance of treatment in becoming healthy. That’s what the month is all about. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s description of recovery month as important to spreading “the positive message that behavioral health is essential to overall health, that prevention works, treatment is effective and people can and do recover.” Substance use disorders are chronic treatable diseases and, like other chronic diseases addiction can be managed successfully.
The societal benefits of treatment can’t be overstated. Every dollar invested in addiction treatment saves taxpayers $7.46 in societal costs, such as crime, violence, and loss of productivity.
Studies show that people with both substance use and mental health disorders are in need and very likely to use emergency room services repeatedly and that savings are achieved in health care related costs when treatment is provided. A Minnesota study found that by providing drug treatment services, the number of hospitalizations decreased by 5 percent in the first six months following treatment which produced millions in annual health care savings. After Massachusetts implemented a comprehensive care program for delivering substance abuse and mental health services to Medicaid recipients, substance abuse treatment services increased but the cost of the services declined 45 percent. Savings were achieved primarily through reduced use of hospitals and increased used of detoxification centers.
The need for treatment has been identified in the debate on whether Maine should accept federal funds to close the coverage gap in our state and expand access to health care for people with low income under Medicaid. During a public hearing regarding expansion, substance abuse and mental health providers expressed concerns about the impact recent budget cuts and the loss of coverage has had on clients seeking treatment, including those who had been receiving treatment for addiction. The lack of health care coverage has created longer lists of people waiting for services, increased incarcerations and more trips to expensive emergency departments at local hospitals. Substance abuse providers have fewer resources to treat those in need of treatment and towns and municipalities are seeing increased costs as a result.
Law enforcement also weighed in at the hearing. Health care coverage was described as a “vital community-wide benefit” that can help prevent crime and violence while at the same time save criminal justice system resources, time and money.
Providing health care coverage and closing the coverage gap for low-income Mainers would help people who are in need of treatment but who cannot afford services. It would help to preserve and strengthen Maine’s health care infrastructure. In fact, recent studies of states that have closed the coverage gap by expanding Medicaid show hospitals are seeing reductions in the number of uninsured people coming through their doors and in the amount of charity care provided, and increased revenues. In other words, hospitals in states that have accepted the federal funds to expand Medicaid are doing better than hospitals in states that have not.
Maine still has opportunity to change course. Closing the coverage gap for people with low income would enable many who suffer from chronic disease, including addiction, to move from crisis to recovery to stability and health and will also help to prevent addiction, important in maintaining the health, wellbeing and safety of our communities.
Darren Ripley is the Coordinator of The Maine Alliance for Addiction Recovery, a program of The Maine Association of Substance Abuse Programs. MAAR is the state-wide coalition advocating for and providing peer resources and programs for addiction recovery in the State.