Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

April 19, 2013

Help unavailable

Shortage of treatment centers could deny care for addicts

The Independent

ASHLAND — When the Affordable Health Care Act — a.k.a. Obamacare — takes full effect in January, thousands of more Kentuckians will be eligible for health insurance for the treatment of their addictions to drugs and/or alcohol.

That’s the good news in a state where the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration estimates that 280,000 residents — or a whopping 8 percent of the state’s population — needs treatment for their drug and alcohol addictions. However, even with the increased availability of insurance, many of those Kentuckians may not be able to receive the treatment they need.

That’s because of a severe shortage of treatment facilities in the state for people addicted to drugs and alcohol. While there are not enough treatment centers in any part of the state, the problem is particularly severe in the eastern third of the state where hundreds have died in recent years from overdoses of prescription doses and where the use of methamphetamine, cocaine and heroin is rapidly increasing.

While the federal government says 280,000 Kentucky residents need treatment for alcohol and drug addictions, only about 31,000 are receiving help. For many of the most severe addicts, the only effective treatment is being housed for a period of time — usually for at least a month — in a treatment center. But there are only 2,400 beds in treatment facilities in the entire state, and most of them are outside of this region. Some small rural counties in this part of the state have no treatment facilities but have many residents who are either addicted to prescription pain medication or to alcohol.

The problem is clear: While many more Kentuckians soon will be eligible for insurance to cover the cost of receiving effective treatment for the cost of their addictions, the increased coverage will be of little or no value if there is no room at existing facilities for the addicts.

Being treated at an in-house facility has proven to be the only effective way of helping some addicts successfully kick their habits. While there is a critical need for more treatment facilties in this region, it is highly unlikely that even with being assured payments from insured patients, there will be enough facilities to come close to meeting the need in a region where the prescription drug epidemic continues to plague us all.

  This editorial should not be considered an endorsement of Obamacare. We continue to have great concerns that the Affordable Health Care Act will prove to be unaffordable and send the nation even further into debt. But Obamacare is the law of the land, and if it can provide funds to help those with alcohol and drug addictions receive the treatment they need, then we hope they can find a place to receive it. Unfortunately, unless far more facilities are opened in the coming months, many will not.