The epidemic of drug addiction takes a terrible toll on American lives and our economy. In fighting back, the nation and, certainly, Montanans, must ensure that money for prevention and treatment is carefully spent.
Fourteen U.S. senators — one independent, four Republicans and nine Democrats, including Montana’s Jon Tester — have united on legislation that would eliminate an arbitrary federal mandate that is keeping Americans in need of addiction treatment from getting timely care at existing U.S. treatment programs.
Nearly half of the 42 beds at Rimrock’s main building were empty Monday. All 60 residential treatment beds in 10 houses scattered throughout the community were full with waiting lists of Medicaid enrollees — 94 men and 80 women. Those waiting numbers are actually fewer than usual, said Lenette Kosovich, Rimrock chief executive officer.
The reason for waiting lists despite empty beds is that Medicaid won’t cover residential substance use treatment in a facility with more than 16 beds. So to serve the needs of people throughout Montana, Rimrock operates 10 sites with room for half a dozen or so clients at a time.
The treatment is the same as at the main building, but operations are more expensive. The biggest drawback is that people who are motivated to start treatment are at risk for losing that motivation while they wait for weeks or months to get started.
Rimrock plans to open another residence soon with treatment targeting pregnant women. The state of Montana’s Medicaid program already designates pregnant women as a priority population. Obviously, the mother’s drug abuse will affect the baby. Many babies are born in Billings with drugs of abuse already in their tiny bodies.
Last week, the Federal Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis recommended that the Medicaid program end the exclusion of addiction treatment centers with more than 16 beds. The commission report concludes that: “This will immediately open treatment to thousands of Americans in existing facilities in each state.”
Several more commission recommendations are more specific to opioid abuse, which is causing about 142 overdose deaths every day. Treatment professionals and law enforcement in Montana report seeing prescription opioid abuse, as well as heroin, in our state. Methamphetamine continues to be even more prevalent and damaging. Elimination of the bed limit would allow Montana and other states to use existing resources more rapidly and effectively — regardless of which addictive substance is involved.
We commend Tester for his leadership in recognizing sooner than most of his colleagues that S. 1169 will help Montana cope with the addiction crisis that fills our jails, prisons and hospital emergency rooms while drastically increasing drug-related crime.
We call on Sen. Steve Daines to sign onto this common-sense legislation as Republican Sens. Rob Portman, Shelley Moore Capito, Susan Collins and Roger Wicker already have.
House Resolution 2938, the Road to Recovery Act, would also remove the 16-bed limit. Rep. Greg Gianforte, R-Mont., should be a cosponsor of that House bill.
Montana’s health care, corrections and courts systems are struggling with the growing burden of substance abuse and the myriad problems addiction creates. Here’s one clear way to target the root cause of so much misery: Change federal law to get people into treatment sooner rather than later.