According to a 2007 survey conducted by the federal government, only 12 percent or one in eight of the 107,000 Rhode Islanders who suffer from substance abuse addiction get treatment. One may only surmise what the response would be if sufferers of other illnesses such as cancer or diabetes received no treatment. Many professionals who are involved in the treatment of substance abuse addiction have expressed outrage and disappointment how such a wide margin between addiction treatment and the medical system can exist. However, when the recent report was released by the Closing the Addiction Gap Coalition concerning its findings and recommendations from a year of study, the results indicated that attitudes and moods may be starting to change.
There are twelve recommendations that are practical solutions the coalition intends to bring to reality said Nick Zaller, project leader of the Closing the Addiction Treatment Gap Coalition. The aim is to focus on early intervention to prevent problems, improved treatment options, and integrating addiction treatment into the rest of the medical system. The coalition, which was founded in June of 2009 with a $600.000 grant from the Open Society Institute, comprises nearly 40 physicians, child welfare, advocates, religious leaders, educators, treatment providers and other professionals.
Among the twelve recommendations the coalition issued: are the need for primary-care offices to include behavioral health specialists; the health insurance commissioner should make sure the mental health parity law is obeyed; treatment providers should adopt a set of quality standards; Medicaid should pay for screening and early intervention; and an alternative facility should be developed for substance-abuse patients leaving the emergency room.
According to Dr. Brian J. Zink, who heads the emergency departments at both Rhode Island and Miriam hospitals, there were 46 patients who accounted for 1,712 visits to Rhode Island Hospital’s emergency room for substance abuse issues in 2008.
Professor David Rosenbloom, who teaches public health at Boston University and who has led nationwide efforts to fight substance abuse adds that a century of stereotyping of substance abuse users has led to “a separate and unequal system has evolved completely outside the medical system and almost without involvement of physicians.” Dr. Rosenbloom continues to add, “We have the obligation to re-knit this complicated illness into the medical system.”
It is evident that substance abuse treatment in Rhode Island is in drastic need of revision. Emergency rooms are constantly called upon to aid substance abusers. Likewise, criminalizing the drug problem is not the answer since American prisons have become over crowded with addicts as well as dealers. Decriminalizing the drug problem may not do much good either unless treatment options are made widely available. Rhode Island, like many other states in the country, has not too much to offer and that is unfortunate.