Opium abuse has been with the United States pretty much since the days of the founding fathers. The dangers of the drug were known even then. Today, people are falling victim to new super-powerful opioids more quickly than ever in an epidemic that some have compared to the AIDS endemic of the 1980s.
Deaths from opioid overdose have reached their highest level in decades. Many of those affected by the distribution of the new super-potent “street dope” at the heart of this rash of deaths come from low-income households or have nowhere to live at all. That makes government support a must, but with Congress racing to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, will they have access to the help they need?
Understanding the Epidemic
If you’ve had the good fortune of not coming in contact with these powerful drugs, it’s difficult to convey just how powerful addiction to opioids can be.
With the changes imposed by the health care bill currently under contention in Congress, there will no longer be money to pay for these drugs. The cuts would add up to a combined $722 billion over ten years, and would reduce Medicaid enrollment of persons under the age of 65 by 16 percent.
Though Americans have been slow to acknowledge the growing problem that is the opioid overdose, deaths are on the rise even with the current amount of government support. Without public financing, that trend will spike, and the most commonly hit demographic in this epidemic actually appears to be poor white males — a group Trump’s campaign targeted specifically during his 2016 campaign.
In places like New Hampshire, northern California and Pennsylvania, poverty-stricken addicts often resort to street dope. That’s when things go from bad to worse. Heroin laced with fentanyl, an opioid sixty times the strength of morphine, has invaded American streets through influence from Mexican cartels.
That means a user that is looking for “regular” heroin, a dangerous enough endeavor, might well end up with a product so powerful a single dose can prove fatal. The increasing quantity of fentanyl-laced heroin on the streets explains, at least in part, the enormous increase in overdose deaths in recent years.
Many addicts begin their involvement with the drug when they are prescribed opioids to deal with pain from severe injuries. Modern opioids are so potent some patients are never able to wean themselves off of the powerful painkillers.
No Safe Way off Prescription Drugs
For addicts that get their start with opioids at the doctor’s office, the cuts to Medicaid spending that “Trumpcare” would impose could truly be a death sentence.
Opioid users suffer from debilitating withdrawals if they go “cold turkey.” The body can’t tolerate a complete lack of drugs, which is why medications like methadone exist. The well-known synthetic opioid is prescribed to help those addicted slowly and safely wean themselves away from drug use.
Under the Affordable Care Act, less fortunate opioid users who require these drugs to transition back to normal life can receive help to get them. Medicaid is currently supporting a third of the nation’s addicts and in some states that number is as high as 50 percent of those trying to kick the deadly habit.
Pushing Back on the Plan
There are glimmers of hope that Trump’s “repeal and replace” rhetoric will not be the end of Obamacare. That would mean the current state of support for opioid users would remain unchanged, but how likely the laws are to remain as they are now for the duration of Trump’s administration is hard to say.
Many sitting members of Congress see issues with the health care proposal. Even some GOP members find it difficult to promote a plan that leaves 24 million Americans uninsured. Protesters around the nation have staged “die-ins” to demonstrate the serious consequences that would come with a switch to this plan, which retracts coverage from a number of groups in addition to those affected by opioids.
In addition to removing help for opioid users, the GOP plan would deny coverage to many Americans who need it the most, specifically the elderly. The American Health Care Act would also remove government funding for public programs like Planned Parenthood. An arguable upside? The GOP promises a 10 percent reduction in premiums for Americans who can purchase insurance by 2026.
Relying on Our Representatives
With a Republican majority in Congress and President Trump feeling mandated to pass a new plan to satisfy his campaign supporters, the death of Obamacare seemed inevitable at first, but the GOP has struggled to make progress on a new scheme.
The implications of stranding millions of Americans without help — including those subjected to deadly addiction by their own medical system — doesn’t sit well with members of Congress staring down a coming election year. As Republican Representative Pete King of New York put it, “if it takes two, three, four, five years to do it, fine. If we don’t repeal all of it, hey, that’s democracy.”
Thanks, Congress, we always knew you’d come around one of these days. Or have you?