OPINION: Washington state should invest in free opioid treatment facilities

Treatment needs to be made more accessible, as addicts often can’t afford rehab



Expanding Medicaid benefits to allow addicts to receive free and effective treatment would be a big step toward ending America’s opioid epidemic. This could prevent thousands of deaths and change countless lives.

GUS WATERS, Evergreen columnist

Washington should expand Medicaid benefits to allow opioid addicts to receive free, effective treatment.

In 2017, over 60,000 people died from opioids, which includes deaths from fentanyl, heroin and prescription drugs, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. More people died from opioids than were murdered in the U.S. or than were killed by guns.

Fewer than 10 percent of American addicts receive treatment for their disease, according to the New York Times. No major free addiction network exists in the U.S. and the only way the government is dealing with this crisis is by jailing addicts in record numbers.

“We are not going to jail our way out of this,” Pullman Police Cmdr. Chris Tennant said. “I see our role as an intermediary getting victims hooked up with community resources.”

Getting victims the help they need is the only way we can get ourselves out of the nationwide addiction to opioids. However, the help they are provided with is often under-regulated and inefficient. Average relapse rates for drug rehab in the U.S. are around 40 to 60 percent, according to drugabuse.gov.

Because there are no national drug rehab centers in the U.S., a slew of for-profit rehab centers have sprung up trying to help end the opioid crisis. But for-profit centers are under-regulated and are often expensive.

Stays at rehab centers usually last around 30 days, don’t always provide drug counselors to talk to and have an average cost of around $2,000-$50,000, depending on the type of program used. While free rehab is available in the form of Narcotics Anonymous, it only achieves a success rate of around five to 10 percent.

Rehab centers are generally unaffordable by the public. In 2017, 57 percent of all Americans did not have enough money to cover a $500 emergency, according to CBS. If people don’t have enough money to fix a broken bumper on their car, they won’t be able to seek the help they need for addiction.

The unaffordable prices, underwhelming success rates and lack of government help are why the U.S. has one of the worst opioid problems in the world.

However, this is a problem we can fix.

Washington state should pass legislation that would cover the cost of treatment for addicts, regulate rehab centers, and eliminate the criminal charge for possessing a small amount of drugs. Though it has recently taken a step in the right direction, there is still more that needs to happen.

Expanding Medicaid would be the best option for reducing overdose deaths, since Medicaid provides benefits for low-income households. Opioid overdoses tend to occur in areas with few economic opportunities and high rates of poverty, according to drugfree.org., a nonprofit that exists as a collaboration between Partnership for Drug-Free Kids and Center on Addiction. Expansion of Medicaid would be most helpful for Whitman county, which has the highest rate of poverty in Washington state.

Having fewer people addicted to opioids would give small businesses more people to hire, bring crime rates down and make Washington a place where whether if you live next to Jeff Bezos or the Columbia River you can get help.