FIVE THINGS YOU CAN DO TO FIGHT STIGMA
We may not be able to change overnight the way society feels about people with alcohol and drug problems, but we can end the legal discrimination caused by stigma
- 1. Demand equal medical insurance coverage for alcohol and drug treatment.
Almost all private or public health insurance and managed care policies still provide no or unequal coverage for alcohol and drug treatment. Repeated studies have shown that including alcohol and drug treatment coverage that matches the coverage available for "physical" illnesses will not raise premiums, in part because it will eliminate many of the other covered medical illnesses that are caused by untreated alcohol and drug problems. Many managed care plans say they cover alcohol and drug treatment, but their case managers almost never approve the amount of care a person needs to actually get and stay better. (Research shows that results really start to improve after a person receives three months of treatment.)
- 2. Tell your elected representatives to stop punishing babies for the past problems of their mothers.
Current federal law bans mothers with past drug convictions from participation in the food stamp program and WIC, the women and infant's nutrition program. In recent years, more than 150,000 babies have suffered because of this law.
- 3. Tell your state lawmakers to remove the legal barriers that prevent people recovering from addictions from getting jobs.
In the American criminal justice system, once you have served a sentence for a crime, you should be able to resume your full participation in society. That does not happen today for people with alcohol and drug convictions. State laws and regulations keep punishing them, often making it impossible for them to find employment. For example, many regulations ban the granting of new licenses to people with nonviolent drug or alcohol felony convictions who apply to become barbers, construction workers or even some types of restaurant workers. In some states, employers have access to criminal records that are supposed to be confidential, making it easy to avoid hiring anyone with a past problem. This continuous punishment virtually condemns many - mostly young African American, Asian American, Latino or Native American men - to wasted lives because research has shown that recovering individuals who don't have jobs are significantly more likely to relapse and commit new crimes than similar individuals who get jobs.
- 4. Give more than lip service to the reality that addiction is a disease, not a character weakness.
A recent poll showed that 80% of Americans think there is discrimination against recovering people in the workforce, but more than a quarter of the survey participants in that poll said they themselves would be reluctant to hire someone in long-term recovery. Large-scale social change often starts with small, sometimes uncomfortable, individual steps.
- 5. Be an advocate for an individual or family with an addiction problem.
Until you have actually been there, it is virtually impossible to describe how hard it is for a family or individual to get access to quality and medically appropriate alcohol or drug treatment. At this most vulnerable point, any setback is likely to send its victim right back to the bottle or pills. Recovering people need an advocate to ask the right questions, insist on the appropriate insurance coverage and make sure there is a treatment plan that makes sense. They need someone who will say no to a suggestion that the patient come back in three weeks for an assessment. A mother and father who are fighting with their insurance company need someone on their side who will not be made to feel ashamed and guilty by a managed care clerk. You can be that person.