I know many people believe that healthcare dollars should not be spent on those who choose to use street drugs. I get it. It’s about personal responsibility. Healthcare dollars are stretched enough caring for those who aren’t the agents of their own destruction.
However, I ask you to consider the following:
We cure cancer in those who continue to smoke cigarettes.
We staple the stomachs of those who ignore the food pyramid.
We perform heart surgery on those who have never seen the inside of a gym.
We given insulin to those who knowingly eat donuts.
We fix the broken limbs of those who practice extreme sports.
We pay for the delivery of babies conceived by high risk mothers.
We stitch back the bodies of those who crash speeding cars.
We treat melanoma in those who refuse to stop sun worshipping.
We treat venereal diseases in sexually promiscuous people.
The costs incurred for treating these examples of “irresponsible behavior” are staggering: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, smoking is the number one preventable cause of disease in the United States and it costs $170 billion dollars a year in direct medical costs. According to the American Diabetes Association one in three medicare dollars are spent on treating diabetes at a cost of $322 billion dollars a year. And, “American use of tanning beds may lead to upwards of 400,000 cases of skin cancer annually.” (American Academy of Dermatology).
But you know what? Those individuals receive treatment with care, efficiency, and efficacy. The same can not be said for those with substance use disorder. This time a year ago my nineteen-year old was turned away from a detox center because there were no beds. She then walked to Boston City Hospital’s emergency room, sweating and trembling, for help. They too turned her away. Desperate, she spent that evening trolling Mass Ave looking for the drug she needed to tide her over for one more day. The next morning she returned to both the detox center and the emergency room. And once again she was refused admittance. She called crying; “could I please, please help?”
Help should have been as simple as a request.
I spoke with the ER doctor. He explained, “we don’t treat drug addicts here.” He then explained that he would also not admit her for mental health reasons because he didn’t believe she “would kill herself.”
I felt weak at the knees. How does one mount a spirited defense when powerless?
“My daughter is only nineteen years of age. She is not yet a hardened street addict. She is high on a drug that is killing people at an unprecedented rate. She is asking for help. You are that help.”
“We are not asking for charity. She is insured by two separate policies.”
His reply: “Hospital rules do not permit admittance.”
“Surely,” I argued, “it is time for hospital rules to change. This is an epidemic. Turn her away and there is a strong possibility that she will die tonight.”
“Why wait for the hospital to change it’s policies in response to a dead child and a lawsuit?”
“You took the Hippocratic Oath.”
“You could lie about the reason for her admission…”
Do you know how it feels to beg when you shouldn’t have too? Begging when the stakes are so ridiculously high? It feels like swimming against the tide while trying to reach your drowning child. Swimming and swimming…and then the dorsal fin appears. But hope is not lost: a lobster boat comes into view! You yell for a rope. But they don’t throw one. No, they don’t. Instead, they sit back and watch. Because, you know, she shouldn’t have been swimming in those waters.
I know I sound angry. That’s because I am. I spend $1500 a month out of pocket for health insurance – and I have had to beg for life saving services. Addiction is classified as an illness by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-III). But the double standard most assuredly remains.