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Medicaid’s Role in Confronting the Opioid Epidemic

The opioid epidemic is real, its effects are devastating, and this law office sees far too many lives and families wrecked by heroin and prescription opioids.    We welcome recent action from the federal government declaring it a public health emergency, though time will tell what measures are taken, which are properly funded, and whether they work.

One key piece of the puzzle seems to be removing unnecessary barriers to medicaid treatment for substance abuse in residential facilities.  This Washington Post article lays it all out.   As you might imagine, people in the grips of serious addictions don’t always have a ton of financial resources.  I am often hired by family members of a person charged with a drug crime, a DUI, or a theft crime related to their drug habit.   Most of the time, jail will not help solve the drug problem for the person or the community.  Going through withdrawal in jail can be not just torturous but deadly, without providing the tools or treatment to ensure a person stays clean.  So the family and I work on getting the person into residential treatment, and hope that aggressive treatment of the underlying problem will satisfy the court and prosecution that incarceration is not necessary.

Medicaid plays a key role in getting this treatment.  Most people with serious addictions, even with family support, could not afford the many thousands of dollars that private-pay residential facilities charge.   Many of those who are addicted don’t have health insurance of any kind.  Medicaid provides a critical role in helping treat addiction at the individual level, thereby providing enormous public benefit in the form of reduced spillover effects (fewer DUIs, fewer thefts, fewer children exposed to drugs, fewer children removed from homes due to drug issues, etc.).   So why, when President Trump declares the opioid crisis a public health emergency, are Trump and Republicans trying to cut funding for Medicaid to give tax breaks to the wealthy?   Is this all just hollow lip service to a problem that kills 100 Americans per day?  I’ve seen Medicaid SAVE people from their addictions, and I hope that Republicans and Democrats alike acknowledge its critical role in fighting the opioid crisis.

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