WASHINGTON, D.C. — New government data demonstrate the continued, urgent need for more Americans to have access to drug and alcohol addiction treatment, according to an analysis by the Closing the Addiction Treatment Gap (CATG) initiative. If implemented properly, federal health care reform legislation could help remove financial barriers to treatment for millions of Americans.

According to Defining the Addiction Treatment Gap, a CATG review of the annual National Survey on Drug Use and Health released by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and other national data sources, addiction continues to impact every segment of American society. 

“Drug use is on the rise in this country and 23.5 million Americans are addicted to alcohol and drugs. That’s approximately one in every 10 Americans over the age of 12 – roughly equal to the entire population of Texas.  But only 11 percent of those with an addiction receive treatment. It is staggering and unacceptable that so many Americans are living with an untreated chronic disease and cannot access treatment,” said Dr. Kima Joy Taylor, director of the CATG Initiative.

“Our society and our health care system have been slow to recognize and respond to addiction as a chronic, but treatable, condition,” said Dr. Taylor.  “While change doesn’t happen overnight, if health care reform is implemented properly, millions of Americans will finally have insurance coverage for addiction treatment.  This is an historic step toward a comprehensive, integrated approach to health care that includes treatment of addiction.”

Defining the Addiction Treatment Gap is intended to provide statistical context for efforts to close America’s addiction treatment gap, including the design of an addiction treatment benefit as part of health care reform implementation.  According to CATG, a number of important factors should be considered: 

Citations for this data, along with a review of current data on addiction and treatment, are available at www.treatmentgap.org.

“Congress embraced addiction treatment as an essential part of health care reform,” said Gabrielle de la Gueronniere, JD, director for national policy at the Legal Action Center and a member of the CATG initiative. “But federal and state regulators are now tasked with translating and implementing that vision. This may be the single greatest opportunity in our lifetime to make a difference. The costs of untreated addiction are too great to not get this right.”

At the national level, Closing the Addiction Treatment Gap is focused on four key elements that are necessary to maximize the opportunity presented by health care reform:

  1. Developing a meaningful addiction treatment benefit that covers a full continuum of addiction services for both the patient and the patient’s family, as appropriate;
  2. Improving coordination and integration of available services, including wellness and prevention services, screening, intervention, treatment and other supports;
  3. Monitoring implementation to prevent new barriers to treatment, ensure full coverage for and access to appropriate care, including the utilization of strategies and interventions with demonstrated effectiveness; and
  4. Preserving federal and state safety nets to ensure treatment is still available to individuals not covered by health care reform, unable to afford insurance coverage even with subsidies, or with insufficient coverage.  Unfortunately, systemic and societal obstacles continue to prevent many people from seeking addiction treatment.  A number of current government policies result in discrimination – housing, education, health care and employment – against those who disclose a history of addiction. These barriers can hinder the long-term health of those seeking to address an addiction through treatment. Although there has been progress in reducing both the stigma and the discriminatory policies, many people with addiction histories are unable to fully exercise their rights and participation in society.