Wednesday, May 25, 2016

The Addiction and Treatment Epidemic

I have been following with great interest the hard-hitting investigative series on the addiction treatment industry in South Florida currently running in the Palm Beach Post. “Addiction Treatment: Inside the Gold Rush” takes a critical look at the booming recovery industry in South Florida.

As many are all too painfully aware, opioid addiction in this country is out of control. It’s a national epidemic and not a day goes by when the news of another overdose isn’t published in the paper or reported on the news. But, what might come as startling news to many is the lengths to which those in the recovery business are going to in order to capitalize on those suffering with the disease of addiction.

As the Post reminds its readers, recovery is big business in South Florida—over $1 billion dollars annually—and the fourth largest industry in Palm Beach County.  But what is really troubling, is that the paper has uncovered that “reports of kickbacks, patient brokering, inflated medical testing bills and insurance fraud are rampant” while at the same time, unlicensed sober homes and drug testing labs are popping up on every corner.

As someone who oversees the management of a reputable drug detox center, I am outraged at what I read and praise the Post for shining light on this criminal behavior.

After reading the newspaper’s series and in the wake of the death of another superstar—Prince—seemingly to drugs, I wondered again what those of us in the health care industry can do to help combat the problem of addiction.

Here in Florida, our Attorney General made huge strides in getting drugs off the street by cracking down on illegal pill mills. However, closing this drug pipeline resulted in addicts seeking drugs in emergency rooms, urgent care centers and physician offices or turning to heroin as it is easy to get and very cheap. What should have happened in tandem with the crack down on pill mills, was a push to improve access to effective treatment. There is very little support at both the state and national level for medically-supervised treatment and that needs to change.

We also have the problem of the ease at which doctors dole out pain medication. While I believe that the vast majority of physicians are prescribing these medications for the right reasons, the reality is that these drugs are highly addictive. We need to put systems in place to identify and help patients who might be heading on the path of addiction before it is too late. We also need to offer support and education to our doctors on the dangers of dispensing these drugs.  Finally, we have to realize that addiction is a long-term battle that needs to be fought on many fronts—from hospitals, to outpatient clinics to behavioral health programs and related treatment centers.

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