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Treatment programs must survive

By John Sanders

Once upon a time, four years and three months ago, a homeless and utterly hopeless alcoholic stepped through the doors of the Freedom House detox in Chapel Hill. In addition to being homeless, this alcoholic was mentally, physically and spiritually sick. He was underweight, malnourished and unemployable, and his friends and family had all but given up on him. During his five-day stay at this nonprofit, taxpayer-supported detox and crisis-stabilization facility, the alcoholic was given guidance and resources regarding things he could do to change his life for the better. Thankfully, he had enough motivation and desperation to ask for help, so he called First at Blue Ridge – a long-term residential facility for substance abusers.

This chain of events led to the alcoholic saving his own life by working a vigorous program of recovery, going back to school to earn a master’s degree and devoting his life to helping others – helping others not only learn how to manage and overcome addiction and mental illness but also become happy, productive, taxpaying members of society. This alcoholic, of course, is me – and I want to personally thank the taxpayers of North Carolina for having the wisdom and foresight to fund detoxification and treatment facilities, which are available when people need help.

Many thousands of North Carolina lives are saved every year – not to mention all the money North Carolina saves on the costs of law enforcement, courts, prisons, emergency room admissions and collateral damages such as automobile accidents, injuries, broken families, neglected children and lost work productivity.

Unfortunately, North Carolina currently has a legislature that is hostile to substance-abuse and mental health treatment. They have spent the last two years defunding programs that save lives and actually save taxpayers’ money. However, for these lawmakers, it’s not really about saving money – because in the long run theses cuts will cost our state much more money than they save – it’s about priorities.

Even conservative rock star and deficit hawk Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey is increasing funds for these types of programs – because he knows that it will actually save his state money in the long run (not to mention, it’s the right thing to do). According to Gov. Christie, at the signing ceremony of his initiative to increase funding for substance-abuse treatment, “No life is disposable and every life can be redeemed, but not if we ignore them. Once again by putting people before partisanship, we are providing optimism and hope to individuals and families torn apart by addiction. … This program will provide mandatory drug treatment to appropriate offenders who are not a threat to society and who suffer from the disease of addiction – redeeming lives and healing families.”

Without commenting on national politics, and attempting to remain unblemished by partisanship, I would like to suggest that North Carolina is in need of a change in leadership in our state legislature – House and Senate. They have repeatedly cut funds for addiction and mental health treatment, which will cost lives, and much more money in the long run.

Even the Republican candidate for governor, Pat McCrory, has said, “This is a choice. We can ignore the underlying addiction … or we can send them to treatment facilities where they can reclaim their lives and become productive members of their communities. This is an easy choice.”

So, regardless of your party affiliation and regardless of how you intend to vote nationally, please consider voting for a change in leadership in the state legislature. This will require voting Democratic for House and Senate seats, and I know this is not easy for many, but the current leadership’s priorities and values are damaging to our state and harmful to people like me. The current leadership’s priorities are not even consistent with conservative values – that’s why I quote Gov. Christie and Pat McCrory.

Remember, there are thousands of North Carolinians out there with stories just like mine; I’m not special. I’m a product of a society that has invested in helping people change their lives. I have been assisted by taxpayer-supported detox, community health services, federal grants to treatment programs and federal student loans. I will spend the rest of my life paying back my debt to society – literally – by paying back my student loans with interest, paying taxes, giving to charity and assisting others in turning their lives around and becoming productive taxpaying citizens themselves. Indeed, if I assist individuals who are experiencing addiction and mental illness to find a path to recovery, and these individuals change their lives, get jobs and spend the rest of their lives being productive, responsible and paying taxes, does that in a roundabout way make me a “job-creator”? No; but it’s something to think about, and it illustrates the value of investing in substance-abuse treatment services for the people of North Carolina.

John Sanders is a master’s candidate in the UNC School of Social Work and a resident of Carrboro.

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  1. Boyd Wilson

    Beautifully written and powerful personal testimony and call to action. Nicely done, John! It is a real travesty that so much financial “gutting” of critical substance abuse and mental health treatment services has occurred in recent years here in the state that I have lived in and loved these past 40+ years. Thank for your advocacy!

  2. Keith McAdam

    Well said, John. Addiction treatment for the uninsured in North Carolina is virtually non-existent. If you can get on the waiting list for a state run inpatient facility (there are 3) and survive or stay motivated until you are admitted, you receive 14 days of treatment and a hearty handshake. If you go to a local treatment center and you are not acutely intoxicated, you are referred to outpatient treatment, regardless of how bad you want or need a higher level of treatment, and sent on your way. Behavioral case management agencies are constricted by Medicaid guidelines, and ridiculous reimbursement rates, therefore providing sub-par services at innaptopriate levels. No Medicaid? Go to “a meeting.” As an addictions and mental health provider, I see addicts suffer and succumb to their illness due to a lack of appropriate available service provision. it is shameful and unacceptable. Vote wisely, and with compassion.