The state of Florida has the opportunity to send a clear message to the substance-abuse treatment industry with the passage of HB 823, co-sponsored by Rep. Bill Hager, R-Boca Raton. If passed it would target unethical business and marketing practices. The Senate version, SB 1138 is sponsored by Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth.
A few weeks ago, Hager filed an amendment to the bill to authorize and fund a pilot program that would have national implications and that would be headed up by Dave Aronberg, Palm Beach County state attorney. The program would coordinate state and local agencies, law-enforcement entities and investigative units to finally regulate an industry that is incapable of policing itself.
At the national level, President Obama is advocating for $1.1 billion to combat opiod addiction, and politicians like former Gov. Jeb Bush are standing up and sharing their own experiences of family members who have recovered from the disease of addiction.
The substance-abuse industry is plagued with systematic fraud, ethical lapses and questionable business practices. While reputable operators certainly do exist, they are outnumbered by “gun slingers” that justify playing Russian roulette with the lives of those who struggle with the disease of addiction and mental illness.
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Almost 10 percent of our population struggles with addiction; that’s 30 million people. More Americans die each year from drug overdoses than in car accidents; about 120 people a day, 50,000 lives annually. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, almost 70 percent of high school students will have tried alcohol, half will have taken an illegal drug, almost 40 percent will have smoked a cigarette and more than 20 percent will have used a prescription drug for a nonmedical purpose.
We spend billions of dollars to combat swine flu and Ebola, while we neglect to fund at appropriate levels prevention and intervention programs as well as to create regulatory agencies that police that funding.
Why are regulations and high levels of funding so important to our future? The reality is that we are in a global crisis of epidemic proportions. While many Americans have a difficult time understanding a disease that removes the power of choice and, like a tornado, annihilates everything in its path, we can certainly all agree that we must find a solution. Substance abuse is destroying the very fabric of our nation.
Time is not our friend. We are a country at war, from big cities to small towns. Rich or poor, addiction does not discriminate. It is decimating our consciousness, destroying our souls and threatening our national security. We must support progressive legislation, increased funding and regulatory agencies that have real authority to police, investigate and prosecute those that would take advantage and put our loved ones who are already at risk of dying into further jeopardy.
We must reach out to our legislators on both the federal and state levels. We need to raise our voices and raise them loud; our future and our survival are at stake.
Fred Menachem, a child and behavioral-health reform advocate, is president of FJM Consulting Group.