To the Editor:
Years ago, as a social work student in the graduate program at Rhode Island College, I had a vivacious, passionate, professor by the name of Nancy Gerwirtz. Each week in Doctor Gerwirtz’s class I was mesmerized by her passion and her knowledge. She was fearless and never shied away from challenging those in power. Whereas many of us there wanted to have clinical careers in social work, she ignited our passion for advocacy and social justice. I recall that she would use a quote where she said that it was important to make a “private trouble a public issue”. She taught us that this is how policy is changed.
When I read Sherri Flaherty’s story of her daughter’s battle with addiction, I thought back to Dr. Gerwirtz’s quote.
Ms. Flaherty is making her private trouble a public issue so that others can understand addiction, that it is a disease, that there are real families attached to the problem, and that we have a broken system when it comes to treating addiction. Ms. Flaherty, I want to personally thank you for sharing your story.
On the day the Warwick Beacon published Ms. Flaherty’s story, I received a text from a child hood friend. He asked me if it was true that there is a shortage of clinicians and facilities that treat addiction. He also asked me why we have this epidemic currently.
I answered my friends text honestly with the following facts:
l Those who treat addiction (especially for adolescents) are in short supply not only here in RI but across the country.
l The reason we have a short supply of treatment providers is because we have a flawed payment system for substance abuse residential, intensive outpatient, and outpatient services. These are the services one needs once an individual leaves an inpatient hospital. These are the services that are critical in maintaining ones sobriety in the community, yet they receive minuscule reimbursement rates from insurance companies.
l Insurance companies do not like to pay for substance abuse treatment, particularly, if their data shows that a patient is repeatedly entering inpatient and residential facilities. Insurance companies label those who relapse as “frequent fliers.” The more these “frequent fliers” try and access treatment, the more the insurance companies look for ways to deny payment.
l I also explained that the epidemic was started by the pharmaceutical company who made OxyContin. This drug was marketed as a “safe” way to treat pain. Other drugs like Vicodin, Percocet and others were also aggressively marketed to treat pain. The pharmaceutical companies lied to doctors and consumers about how dangerous these drugs really were in that they were highly addictive. The pharmaceutical companies, of course, made millions and millions of dollars as they created one addict after another.
As a result of the facts that I have outlined above, overdoses are now the leading cause of accidental death in this country. It is affecting everyone, black/white, rich/poor, educated/uneducated, and yes, children.
If you are a family member who is trying to save a loved one from addiction, it is a long, hard battle.
Diane L. Marolla, LICSW