Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Letters to Legislators – Dear Council Member Andrews

December 5, 2012
Phil Andrews, Council Member
Montgomery County Council
Dear Council Member Andrews:
How is it possible that in one of the most affluent and well-educated counties in one of the most affluent and well-educated states in the nation, only about 1 in 10 individuals who need treatment for an often fatal healthcare disorder, cannot access the treatment they need?
Heroin Action Coalition of Montgomery County was founded in 2010 by a small group of parents, family members, and friends of individuals struggling with a substance use disorder –parents who struggled to find and afford effective treatment for their child’s opiate addiction, family members who grappled with the stigma associated with the addiction of their loved one, and friends who buried their classmates at the rate of one every three months.  Dismayed to find that prevention and awareness programs are nearly non-existent, and evidence-based high quality treatment is rarely implemented and often unaffordable, they joined forces to form the Coalition.
An estimated 414,000 Maryland residents are currently addicted to alcohol or other drugs and are in need of treatment and support services.  20,000 of those needing services are under 18 years of age.  Only about 1 in 10 individuals who need treatment for addiction are receiving it, while 7 in 10 individuals with chronic illnesses such as diabetes and depression receive treatment for their conditions.  In Maryland, prescription painkiller overdose is now the leading cause of accidental death, surpassing car accidents.  Maryland has been ranked 5th in the nation for the number of Emergency Room admissions for drug and alcohol abuse per 1,000 residents.  Opiate addiction has become epidemic throughout Maryland, contributing to a burgeoning crime rate.  17.3% of drug-related federal sentences in Maryland are heroin-related compared with 7.7% nationwide, and Maryland State Police reported a 51% increase in heroin-related arrests.  Nationwide, drugs are implicated in 78% of violent crimes, 83% of property crimes, 77% of weapon, public order, and other crimes.  Illicit drugs are implicated in 75% of all incarcerations.  Not surprisingly, 65% of all U.S. inmates meet medical criteria for having a substance addiction.  While data pertaining specifically to Montgomery County is currently not compiled, it would be short-sighted at best to believe that any Maryland County is immune from the ravages of this growing epidemic.
Statistics, however, cannot begin to paint the picture of pain, suffering, and heartbreak that families endure as they compete for scarce treatment resources for an addicted family member.  Parents helplessly watch as an addicted child succumbs to the progression of their disorder and its probable outcomes –incarceration or death, when they are unable to access appropriate and necessary treatment for their child.
According to experts, “addiction is a chronic, relapsing disease, for which treatment IS effective.  Providing adequate substance abuse treatment makes our communities safer, keeps our families healthier and lowers health care costs.”  However, as in the case in Maryland, the inability to access treatment for 90% of adults and 78% of adolescents causes crime rates to escalate in direct correlation to addiction rates.  By finding ways to lower the rate of addiction, the crime rate is also lowered, and the health of the entire community is heightened as a result.
Heroin Action Coalition’s overall mission is two-fold:  to ensure that evidence-based best-practice prevention measures and programs are developed and implemented; and to ensure that appropriate high-quality treatment for opiate addiction is available, accessible, and affordable to all who need it regardless of income or insurance.   However, in order for that to become a reality, it must become a priority for legislators, agency administrators, school administrators, police, medical providers, and other community partners.  The Coalition’s priorities for the past two years have been mainly to bring awareness of this deadly problem to the forefront of policy agendas.  We have had many successes at both the state and local level.
Together, We Can Make a Difference.  It is simply not acceptable that teens, young adults, and their families must continue to suffer because they are not sufficiently warned of the impending dangers inherent in taking prescription opiates, nor is it acceptable that, after it is too late, they are unable to access effective treatment.  It is a matter of knowing what works, but allowing what doesn’t.  This situation must change.
Maryland’s #1 health problem is also its #1 budget problem.  Substance abuse costs the Maryland economy six billion annually, with the bulk of the money spent in the areas of justice and healthcare.  However, studies show that for every $1 invested in addiction treatment, taxpayer’s save $7 in reduced crime and criminal justice costs, and another $5 in reduced health care costs.  Untreated addiction causes a serious financial burden on our state’s economy and its consequences are the single greatest drain on Maryland’s budget.  The negative impact on our children, families and communities is beyond measure.  Addiction is not just a problem for the addict.  It is a problem for every tax-paying citizen in Maryland.
Ensuring that individuals have access to evidence-based best-practice prevention programs and treatment options is both socially and fiscally responsible.  For every opiate addict that stops using drugs and becomes a productive member of society, not only is the crime rate lowered, thereby creating safer and healthier communities, but the tax base increases, so that more money can go to funding other social initiatives.  Research has shown that community-based coalitions, like Heroin Action Coalition, are successful at increasing prevention and treatment services in their communities, thereby reducing crime and contributing to the overall health of the community.
I hope you will agree that together we can make a difference in ending the suffering of so many families within our community and curtailing the hemorrhage of public funding allocated to cleaning up the mess left by untreated addiction.  It is to this end that my colleague, Donna Evans, and I would like to meet with you prior to the beginning of the next legislative session, so that we can discuss solutions for ending this fiscal, societal and human waste.  I will call you next week to arrange a time to meet with you at your convenience so that we can ensure that this issue receives the focus that it deserves during the upcoming legislative session and beyond.
Lisa A. Lowe, Director
Heroin Action Coalition of Montgomery County

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