TREAT ADDICTION LIKE CANCER

By Laura Hilgers

Ms. Hilgers has written about having a child with an addiction.

Two years ago, I spent a week in Houston helping my stepbrother while he underwent treatment for Stage 4 lymphoma at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. I sat with him while a nurse cleaned his chemo port and made records of her work, to keep his medical team updated. I accompanied him for the blood tests that determined his readiness for the next treatment. I stayed by his bed as his stem cells were harvested for a transplant, one of the cutting-edge, evidence-based therapies that ultimately saved his life.

Around the same time, I was helping my 22-year-old daughter, who struggled with alcohol and drug addiction. The contrast between the two experiences was stark. While my stepbrother received a doctor’s diagnosis, underwent a clearly defined treatment protocol and had his expenses covered by insurance, there was no road map for my daughter. She had gone undiagnosed for several years, despite my reaching out to her health care providers, who either minimized my concerns or weren’t sure what to do.

I had to hire an expensive interventionist — a professional who helps families find appropriate care and runs interventions — to find names of treatment centers. I spent weeks calling programs, asking questions and waiting to learn what insurance would cover. Finally, after my daughter agreed to treatment and we paid all costs up front, I sent her to a 45-day Arizona inpatient program, praying it would work.

Addiction, like cancer, is a complex disease that requires a multipronged approach. It also affects 1.5 times as many people as those with all cancers combined, and it was pivotal in causing some 64,000 overdose deaths in 2016 alone. It makes no sense that what is fast becoming our greatest health care crisis is still dealt with mostly outside the mainstream medical system.

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