“Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in healthcare is the most shocking and inhumane.” Martin Luther King, Jr. – March 25, 1966
When I think of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on this special day of celebration, my thoughts go back to watching my mother listen to Dr. King's speech "I Have a Dream" with tears rolling down her face.
I remember as a little girl asking, "What is wrong?" as I was very worried as my mother was crying. That is when for the first time my mother explained inequality and injustice. I remember being confused and asking, "But why?" And now, over 50 years later I am still confused and asking, "But Why?"
While I have seen many advances in the field of addictions and recovery over the last 25 years, it saddens me that there is still inequality and injustice in healthcare in regards to addictions.
For example, while recent studies continue to support that "addiction can be defined as a chronic, relapsing brain disease" why is there still a stigma attached with the diagnosis of addiction? This stigma and resulting prejudice can be seen in not only the general population but also in service providers as stated by recent studies.
And while studies continue to show that the relapse rates for drug addiction are similar to those of other chronic diseases like diabetes, hypertension, or asthma, why is relapse from drug addiction seen as a "failure of treatment" and not just treated with renewed intervention like we do with other chronic diseases with no label of 'failure" attached?
And why do insurance companies expect people with addictions to be "fixed" after a short stay in rehab, refusing to pay for long-term aftercare while paying for continued care for persons with other chronic, relapsing brain diseases?
But why when a person decides to seek treatment for their addiction, they can't start treatment because there are no beds available at the facility, while there are beds available for rehab for other chronic, relapsing brain diseases like multiple sclerosis?
And why is it when a person goes to jail for a drug arrest who is suffering from both a drug addiction and diabetes that they receive treatment for their diabetes only while their disease of drug addiction is often left untreated? Why do we as a country complain about the "revolving door" of drug arrests while being too blind to see that making drug treatment part of the prison health system would help to break this cycle?
These are just a few of my "But Whys?" when I think about the injustices and inequalities that I continue to see in the world of addictions in regards to our health care system. While I can see progress has been made over the last 25 years, we still have a lot of work to do.
Like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I too have a dream. My dream is to see all persons with addictions treated without stigma in our health care system just like those with other chronic brain diseases. I have a dream that all persons who relapse see their relapse as a learning experience and resume treatment without stigma. I have a dream that insurance companies will realize that not all of us can be "fixed" after one hospital visit & pay for continued care as needed just like they do for other chronic brain diseases. I have a dream that every person seeking care will find treatment and/or a bed available without delay. I have a dream that every person in jail who suffers from addictions will have treatment available to them in the prison health care system. I have a dream that one day addictions will be viewed without stigma and everyone that seeks treatment from our health care system can do so as easily as seeking treatment for the common cold.
Health and Happiness,
Mary P. Cheney, B.Sc., PTA