By Lisa Battaglia
In this country, we have a crisis of extraordinary circumstances that this current administration as well as past administrations have not addressed. We have a Mental Illness and Drug addiction crisis that has been ignored for far too long. This has now become one of the largest health crises our country has seen in a long time. If we don’t address this soon we stand to lose a population of young people that could otherwise become productive members of society.
In New York State, we have shut down clinics for treatment due to lack of insurance payments as well as state and federal funding. These clinics served a purpose of helping people to get the help they need as well as keeping them off the streets, away from committing crimes to support their habits. Another problem we have is that we treat drug addiction and mental illness as two separate issues rather that treating them together. Research has shown that treating them as one illness gets better results than treating them separately.
If you think about these two subjects objectively you can understand how they are co-occurring problems. People who get addicted to drugs take them to kill the pain whether it is physical pain or mental pain. When the brain reacts to these drugs, people feel euphoric and don’t have to think about their pain. When users start to come down from drug-induced euphoria they start to feel bad again and take the drug to regain that euphoric feeling. If users are having mental pain and these drugs put them in that state of mind why would they not take them? Therefore, we need to treat both illnesses at the same time. People who suffer from mental illness will self-medicate rather than admitting they may have a problem and talk to someone. This is because there is such a stigma attached to mental illness people are afraid to get help for fear of not being able to get a job and being labeled for life. People who have a drug addiction are also afraid to get help because of the stigma attached to that. If we are to fix this crisis we need to address both problems at the same time so that the addict will be able to understand how they got addicted and the person who suffers from mental illness can understand that self-medicating will not make the problem go away it will only numb it for a short period.
Most of our society thinks this is a problem only with poor people and that thought process is so far from the truth. I recently attended a Narcan class given by The Erie County Health Department. I highly recommend everyone to attend one, it is truly an eye-opening experience. I was totally surprised to hear who is being treated for drug addiction in our emergency rooms. I asked the question why mental illness and drug addiction were not being treated at the same time and the experts in the room said they wish they could answer that question. Counties in New York State are fighting for policy change and are hoping that they can secure funding to be able to open facilities to treat both mental health issues and addiction. Expertis in the field would like more treatment facilities where clients can stay at the facility while being treated helping to eliminate the bad influences and use intense therapy that will help to change destructive behaviors.
My hope is that we can eliminate all stigma associated with these illnesses and get the funding needed to open the facilities so more people will be able to get treatment and hopefully move in a positive direction