My name is Andrew Burki and I’m a person in long term recovery who hasn’t found it necessary to take drugs or drink alcohol since December 5, 2001. I’m the product of recovery and the product of treatment in South Florida. On March 9th, I have the privilege of returning to South Florida and speaking for SUD Talks at FAU in Boca Raton. It’s a special place for me as it’s where I finally experienced a successful recovery and subsequently attended college. Now, you may think that this is another article about one of us overcoming our struggles with drugs and alcohol and triumphing in our recovery—it’s not.
This is an article about my parents and all the parents out there struggling with addiction in their own families. If you are the parent of one of us … this article is about you. This is an article about what it’s like to have access to real treatment, a full continuum of care, and be fortunate enough to come from a family with sufficient resources to ensure I had opportunity after opportunity to succeed in my recovery or die trying. This is an article about the utterly unacceptable and inequitable disparity in access to care that we have in this country for families, like mine, fighting to save a child with a substance use disorder and the broken system that offers barriers rather than assistance to desperate Americans in their darkest hours. This is an article about how we, as a society, leave it to our devastated parents to believe in their children’s ability to recover and build meaningful lives for themselves, amidst legal and healthcare systems that prejudicially push those same children toward failure, incarceration, and death with the soft bigotry of low expectations and a preconceived notion that those children are not worth wasting any effort on in the first place.
While we have nationally seen a steady increase for over a decade in the number of parents who have had to bury their children as a result of substance use disorders, we have also seen a steady withdrawal of support for those same individuals and families while they’re still fighting. In the public sector, we have seen agencies asked to treat an ever-growing number of individuals in need with the same or less resources year after year. In the private sector, we have seen abysmally short and woefully insufficient treatment episodes provided and even the draconian implementation by some insurance providers of “fail first” policies, which should more accurately be titled “please die quickly so we don’t have to fulfill our obligation to your parents” policies. Our national and state governments have talked for a decade without making any scale appropriate or meaningful move to address the crisis or even enforce the parity laws passed over 10 years ago to prevent this exact problem from occurring. The sum of all of these human rights violations has created an environment in which hurricane scale national issues are dumped on individual families to fight out and win on their own … or mourn if they cannot.
Now, you may be thinking that this assessment of the situation is exaggerated, but I assure you it is not. Alcohol and opioid deaths in the United States alone now account for the equivalent of one third of the population of Miami dying every 12 months. We’ll lose more Americans in the next 8 months than live in the entire city of Boca Raton. Just the one fact alone that our first responders are empowered to step in and save the life of one of our citizens whom they perceive as at risk of committing suicide with a 72 hour lock down stabilization, but are themselves metaphorically handcuffed when one of us literally dies and they have to resurrect us with lifesaving medication, but can’t get us any form of mandated care, should give all of America pause. How is it that we live in an America where actually killing yourself with an opioid overdose doesn’t constitute self-harm and will get you less help than putting a cigarette out on your arm does? How can we possibly expect families to solve that level of behavioral healthcare problems when entire hospitals full of doctors and nurses are rendered impotent to even slow the death count under our current system? Can you imagine an America where thousands of citizens with the same treatable health condition are pushed out of emergency rooms without help and were dead within days and in some cases hours? Would we not be pulling hospital and doctor licenses left and right over such malpractice?
Which brings us to the parents. Perhaps it’s time for us to start listening to some of the parents and the help for which they are begging. When a parent says, “My son is shooting fentanyl and can’t make rational decisions, I need you to come save his life.” Maybe we should listen to that cry for aid and send a police officer over with a functional warm handoff system in place so that same parent isn’t visiting their child at the local cemetery next month. When a parent says, “My daughter has so much potential, if we could just help her build a life worth staying in recovery for.” Maybe we should build our treatment systems to accommodate those young adult specific needs and build subacute care support systems like collegiate recovery and recovery high schools to support the family recovery process beyond treatment. And maybe, just maybe, we should listen to families when they say, “Please, I need help. I literally can’t afford to save my kid’s life” and build an equitable system that no longer allows unethical and illegal insurance payer denials, or depth of a parent’s pockets to be the determining factors in which kid gets to recover, grow up, and speak at the university in which treatment and recovery gave him access to, which kid goes to prison for the exact same treatable health condition, and which kid goes to the morgue.
Andrew Burki is the Founder of Life of Purpose Treatment and Director of Public Policy for City Line Behavioral Healthcare Group. www.loptreatment.com