Alcohol or drug abuse affects 25 million Americans; only four million get treatment
The need in this country for increased insurance coverage for alcohol and drug addiction treatment is indisputable. Drug rehab and drug detox have little or no recognition among health insurers, yet drug addiction is a major cause of ruined lives, family violence, emergency room visits, and death. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor, alcohol and drug addiction also cost America $77 billion each year in lost productivity. Clearly something needs to be done to make it easier for addicts to get alcohol and drug rehab.
But the question that leaps out when one reads the Paul Wellstone Mental Health Equitable Treatment Act, H.R. 1402, is this: is substance abuse and addiction “mental illness”?
The proposed “Wellstone bill”, H.R. 1402, would require insurance companies to treat “addiction and other mental health disorders” on an equal basis with other chronic diseases, such as diabetes or hypertension.
The Wellstone bill is being sponsored by U.S. Reps. Patrick Kennedy (D-RI) and Jim Ramstad (R-Minn). Kennedy has said that we should “. . . end the discrimination against those with mental health and substance abuse disorders.” And Ramstad said Congress should “. . . end the discrimination against people with mental illness and chemical dependency.”
Where is this idea coming from that people with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder are in the same category as alcohol or drug abuse, including those inadvertently got hooked on addictive prescription drugs. Is it possible that they are not mentally ill – that they simply need drug detox and drug rehab?
For example, was Justice William H. Rhenquist of the Supreme Court “mentally ill” because he was hooked on powerful painkillers for a decade before he entered drug rehab? You’d have a tough time convincing college law professors or anyone on the Supreme Court that we should go back and cancel 10 years of brilliant and insightful decisions and opinions – the ones that later got Rhenquist appointed Chief Justice – because he was “mentally ill.”
Or what about one of America’s most famous, prolific and successful writers who for decades was either drunk or wired on cocaine, Xanax, Valium, NyQuil, cough medicines, or marijuana? Was Stephen King “mentally ill” when he wrote several intricately plotted, best-seller blockbuster novels? We never heard anything about “mental illness” when King went into drug rehab in the 1980s. And he’s been sober ever since.
And let’s not forget that Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, was a habitual cocaine abuser who sang the drug’s praises for years to anyone who would listen. After a friend died of an overdose, he abruptly gave it up and quit promoting it – not the action one expects from someone who is “mentally ill”.
The so-called “mental health parity” bills such as the Wellstone bill have always failed to pass – and there’s been a lot of attempts over the decades. Aside from the huge lobbying efforts against it by the insurance industry, perhaps people also feel deep down that substance abuse and mental illness are not the same thing at all and do not belong together in a such a bill.
The “mental health industry”, as it’s known today, receives billions of tax dollars every year in grants and other forms of support. In comparison, appropriations for alcohol and drug rehab are a drop in the bucket. Yet untreated dependency and addiction are costing us $77billion in lost productivity – more than heart disease, diabetes and cancer combined, and far more than “mental illness.”
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, nearly 25 million Americans suffer from a substance abuse problem. And less than four million of these victims receive the drug rehab they need.
If we really want to do something about this situation, we need to separate these two issues and get each of them into their own proposed legislation. That way we may have a better chance to get the insurance industry up to speed on helping the millions of Americans who are not mentally ill, and who too often need financial help getting into and through a successful drug rehab program