Pubdate: Thu, 17 Sep 2015
Source: Reno News & Review (NV)
Column: Left Foot Forward
Copyright: 2015, Chico Community Publishing, Inc.
Author: Sheila Leslie


Finally, there's a national plan more sophisticated than a soundbite. 
The gaping hole in the social safety net has allowed far too many 
Americans to descend into the nightmare of addiction.

Nevada, in particular, has been hit hard by the tragedy of heroin 
addiction and overdose deaths, as a close reading of the obituaries 
in newspapers around the state reveals. It's no surprise that our 
last place finish in the number of behavioral health professionals 
and a severe lack of state funding for treatment has led to 87 
percent of Nevadans with drug addiction receiving no treatment last 
year. Alcoholics fared even worse. According to the Substance Abuse 
and Mental Health Services Administation's "behavioral health 
barometer" for 2014, 95 percent of Nevadans who needed treatment for 
alcoholism didn't get it.

It's nothing new. Nevada has never been a progressive state when it 
comes to social services, preferring that its residents rely on 
friends, family, churches and their bootstraps to deal with their 
troubles. Corporations have long enjoyed the benefits of a disposable 
workforce. When one casino worker flames out over too much alcohol or 
meth, there's always another waiting in the wings. And if a few kids 
are caught up in the madness, well, their parents should be paying 
more attention.

Nevada's problems are far worse than the national average, but it's 
no picnic in other states either, as almost 23 million Americans have 
some sort of substance abuse disorder. Less than a tenth access 
treatment. Prison has been our national response when the drugs cause 
too many burglaries or the alcohol leads to an excess of DUI arrests.

So it's incredibly refreshing that the substance abuse epidemic is 
penetrating political campaigns at the highest level.

Hillary Clinton became the first candidate to release a comprehensive 
plan to address drug and alcohol addiction earlier this month, 
proposing a $10 billion initiative to prevent and treat substance 
abuse disorders and support people in recovery. It's going to take 
that level of response to make a dent in this scourge that affects so 
many families.

We know that funding prevention works. The "Crystal Darkness" 
campaign against meth, led by Nevada First Lady Dawn Gibbons seven 
years ago, had a dramatic impact on Nevada teenagers, although meth 
continues to be the primary drug of choice for Washoe County's drug 
court defendants. That work needs to be sustained and extended to 
prevent the worrisome growth in prescription drug abuse and 
intravenous heroin use by local youth. Clinton's plan will underwrite 
peer mentoring, leadership programs and school-based programming.

The biggest gap in Nevada is the lack of publicly funded treatment to 
provide access to those ready to confront their addiction. Clinton 
calls for expansion of in-patient and out-patient services as well as 
increasing the number of trained providers, with a special focus on 
peer recovery coaches and enforcing insurance parity laws. She also 
wants alternatives to incarceration for low-level and non-violent 
drug offenders.

Clinton's proposal requires $1 from the state for every $4 in federal 
funding, a partnership that seems more than worth the money since 
Nevada has so few treatment resources.

Two other planks of the Clinton plan were addressed by the 2015 
Legislature, improving access to naloxone to stop opioid overdoses 
from becoming fatal and requiring physicians to consult the 
prescription drug monitoring program to reduce doctor-shopping.

Clinton knows that evidence-based treatment works and recovery is 
possible. She's clear that the federal emphasis on enforcement of 
drug laws is an abject failure, costing us billions of dollars and 
engendering untold tragedy. Nearly everyone understands that Nancy 
Reagan's vapid Just Say No campaign is not worth repeating.

We should challenge other presidential candidates to stop their 
sniping long enough to produce their own plans to address this public 
health epidemic and save lives.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom