The System is Broken: We Need to Change How We Treat Addiction

On Oct. 4, thousands of Americans gathered at the National Mall in Washington D.C. to raise awareness about the epidemic of substance abuse that is devastating American families. Presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Carly Fiorina have raised the issue in their campaigns, and recently Dr. Oz visited Washington to testify on opioid abuse.

The speeches and news coverage came too late for my family. My son lost his battle with addiction in January. In contrast to the common perception of addicts, he wasn’t weak or lacking in will power. Matt suffered from a chronic, debilitating disease that impacts approximately 85 million Americans. Our healthcare system was ill-equipped to provide for his treatment or cover the care he needed, and our nation has yet to fully recognize the urgent need to expand access to care for addicts like him and provide outcomes-based treatment models that can save lives.

Today, only 11 percent of people who seek treatment for addiction receive it, according to estimates from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Matt never got the care he needed, and I was forced to manage his detox on my own at home, as he scratched away non-existent bugs from his arms, shook and vomited for hours. There are countless ways our current system fails addicts and families, ranging from lack of available bed space in treatment facilities to the shortage of trained specialists to the denial of coverage by insurers and the high out-of-pocket costs families are expected to pay.