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Universal Access to Addiction Treatment

We’ve been hearing alot lately about health care reform and changing the focus of the War on Drugs to treating drugs as a public health issue.  That’s really good, but are we going to end up with what we really need?  One change that would help both the overall cost of health care and the cascade of problems stemming from the illegal drug trade is to follow one simple imperative:

Addiction treatment should be available to anyone who wants to recover from any addiction.

Notice that I say “any” addiction.  By that I mean that we should not be limiting ourselves to illegal drugs and alcohol.  There are many other forms of addiction, from gambling to eating disorders to codependency, that are just as much public health issues as drug and alcohol abuse.  So I say, treat all addictions the same and provide the public and private support necessary to provide universal access to treatment.

Now you may be thinking “the cost is going to be enormous, we can’t afford that!”  But let’s look at what we’re going to save, which can be broken down into a few broad categories:

  • Criminal Justice savings.   It is only reasonable that an addict who has the support necessary to recover from their addiction is much less likely to wind up in jail.  As a very simplistic example, compare the cost of 5-10 weeks of residential treatment to the 5-10 years the same person might spend in prison if they remain untreated.  I don’t have figures handy on the cost of each, but it’s obvious that the cost differential would be huge.  Even if treatment had a modest success rate, you’re talking millions or even billions of dollars per year in savings.
  • Health Care savings.  Plain and simple, an addict in recovery is going to be healthier than an addict on the street.  Someone who is healthier is going to need less medical care.
  • Business Productivity.  Even if an active addict is able to hold down a job, they are going to be less productive than the same person who is “clean and sober”.  I’m no actuary, but I suspect the cost of impaired productivity to the GDP is staggering.

So what does all of this mean?   It means that we should make our voices heard and call for universal access to addiction treatment!


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