From a public media prospective, 2015 may be the year that the recovery industry and the greater recovery community had its “coming out party.” Social media campaigns, coupled with the growing face of the national opioid/heroin epidemic, have placed the discussion of addiction front and center on the minds of all Americans as the largest healthcare epidemic in our nation’s history. Persons from all walks of life have elected to forego the anonymity of their recovery to demand that our country collectively take definitive and decisive action towards eradicating opiate addiction and the effective legalized drug dealing perceived to be perpetuated by health care providers.
This past October 2015, the nation experienced the first “National Addiction Rally” of sorts, as tens of thousands of persons from various backgrounds came to the National Mall in Washington, D.C. to demand a larger federal response to the national epidemic. What we experienced was a divergent group of persons from various socio-economic demographics converging around a single point of interest and demanding immediate and massive cultural change when it comes to how medicine and healthcare is practiced in our country.
Concurrently, 2015 began significant discussions on the effectiveness of cost-control relating to the Affordable Care Act (i.e., “Obamacare”). While the Office of the President has publicly called the ACA a success, there appears to be continued concern from a cross-spectrum of Americans about how we pay for healthcare, accessibility, and the continued rising costs of premiums. By way of example, within the State of Florida, Cigna announced their election to leave the state due to what they claim to be overwhelming fraud within the Substance Use Disorder treatment field. At the opposite end, persons across the country continue to assert that the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 still has not lived up to its hype, as readily-accessible, full-continuum treatment for Substance Use Disorder remains a Rubik’s Cube depending upon state of domicile.
Within 2015, we also saw the continued emergence of a cohesive force for change emanating from the Young People in Recovery (YPR) movement and the further establishment of collegiate recovery programs at universities and colleges in every state. National leaders in this space such as Andrew Burki of Life of Purpose Treatment continue to make inroads at college campuses across the nation.
At the Congressional level, 2015 also saw significant discussion on legislative and policy direction that reaffirm the need for a comprehensive approach to Substance Use Disorder and the misuse (and over-prescription) of opioids. The proposed
“Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act” (CARA) would enhance existing block grant programs to the tune of up to $5 million dollars to expand education and prevention; expand the availability of naloxone to law enforcement agencies and other first responders; expand resources to identify and treat incarcerated individuals suffering from addiction disorders; expand disposal sites for unwanted prescription medications; and strengthen prescription drug monitoring programs to help states monitor and track prescription drug diversion.
CARA also underscores the continued strength and dominance of the discussion by the pharmaceutical industry, as medication assisted treatment (MAT) continued its upward trajectory as the primary source of initial treatment. Addiction professionals are being forced to reconsider prior policy positions about the role that MAT could or should play in long-term sobriety.
On the Presidential campaign trail, America’s heroin crisis has risen to levels that are demanding attention going forward into 2016, as candidates from both sides of the aisle call for action, particularly in the first-in-the-nation primary state of New Hampshire where heroin overdoses have soared. From town hall forums to presidential debates, it seems the addiction crisis has taken the candidates by surprise, which may bode well for the short-term conversation about addiction, but remains part of the larger national discussion on social policy issues, which tend to get drowned out in the black hole that is Congress. Still, first primary states such as New Hampshire, which itself has an epidemic substance abuse problem, may be the testing ground for the national tolerance of discussing Substance Use Disorder consistently and openly.
Looking forward to 2016, the topic of Recovery Residences (i.e., “Sober Homes”) will continue to be a hot topic, at least at the local level. Healthcare will begin to accept paying for “treatment” but continuing to deny that housing is an integral part of “recovery.” From an urban planning perspective, the place and placement of such homes, their concentration within communities, and their regulation will continue to be a point of great concern.
Throughout 2016 and into 2017, our nation’s cultural values will likely see a seismic shift as marijuana usage becomes more acceptable, and treatment programs for high-potency grade misuse becomes more ubiquitous. A likely antagonism will surface between society, demanding that marijuana’s place in our communities is medicinal and not recreational; from growers and distributors who will experience high profit margins; and treatment centers, who themselves will be torn between patient care and profit margins.
The year 2016 and beyond will surely see a paradigm shift in how Americans view our cultural norms about drugs, addiction, recovery, and housing. The discussion moving forward will be to determine at what point do we cross the line and allow the integrity of the “recovery movement” to be compromised by the need to be financially self-sustaining in light of the lack of public appetite to fund any social service.
Jeffrey C. Lynne, Esq., is the Managing Partner of Weiner, Lynne & Thompson, P.A., a Delray Beach, Florida, law firm specializing in land use & zoning, litigation, transactional real estate, and government regulatory law. Mr. Lynne and his firm represent a large number of substance abuse treatment providers and owners of sober living residences throughout the State of Florida.