I have been using a term: “treatment on demand.” Why, treatment on demand? “Why not?” should be the question, by now. For twenty years, perhaps more, we have been watching an escalating overdose death rate climb until it outstrips every other form of death for persons 18 to 60 years of age. Most, though not all of those who are dying, are persons with addiction. Given that the Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has said that nearly 93% of those with addiction are not receiving treatment or benefitting from recovery—this has become a plague that operates with our nearly dumb acquiescence. This is the modern version of a “slaughter of innocents.” Folks are dying without ever realizing that the disease is treatable and death might be forestalled.
If most of the dying belonged to a minority population of any other kind, legal action would have begun, civil disobedience protests would be underway, boycotts organized, and the actions of the movement would be prominent in the news. As it is, even the September Recovery Day Celebration has trouble finding page one at the news stand. I am sickened by the numbers of people slipping shamefully un-noticed into the grave. Well, this article is a call to action: in Dylan Thomas’ words, “Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”
No politician running for even the most humble office without substantive thought on this issue will get my vote. At political events and rallies, I am going to demand their views on the overdose death problem. I want them to understand that this issue must be the major focus of their health agenda. They need to understand that they can meet their constituents more frequently by mourning with them at funerals for loved ones than they can by attending their children’s weddings. I want saving Social Security to be a problem again. The death rate has taken that debate off the table for anyone paying attention. Abortion? Your stand on abortion is immaterial if you ignore this issue. “Tinkling bell, sounding cymbal.” And I don’t care who marries who. There are fewer dollars at stake there for individual tax payers than there are for the thousands whose overdose medical costs have to be paid whether they live or die. Typically, there are five overdoses, with the last adding a funeral expense. Want to bring down medical costs? Really? Then what is your plan to reduce overdose rates? How are you going to fund treatment on demand?
I understand that men of faith must deal with issues like caring for an aging population, abortion, and gay marriage. Try as we might to pretend that we have no social obligation to deal with these issues—they will continue to press into our every-day living and demand from us a moral response. What I do not understand is how anyone can ignore, as we have, the immoral and downright shameful loss of so many of our citizens, cut down in their prime by overdose death. If you believe that our morality is slipping—I will tell you it went off the rails when we began to barter with death for taxes on liquor, drugs, and gambling—without making any accommodations for treating persons who might come to harm as a result of their use. Providing for treatment on demand is an attempt to right a poorly run and badly listing ship of state.