By Gabe Morgan
As the Newport News sheriff, I will always be committed to prosecuting drug traffickers and enforcing all drug laws. Unfortunately, the mounting crisis of opioid addiction is a problem we’ll never arrest our way out of — one that costs society $1.5 billion in police protection, $726 million in adjudication costs and $625 million due to property loss every year.
Like any taxpayer who expects wise use of resources, I’m concerned about these staggering costs. Because I’m in law enforcement, I also see the human costs: the debilitating physical ailments, the losses of jobs and homes and the crimes that some addicts commit during their most desperate days.
Too often, innocent children are also victims. In fact, I bet many people reading this know kids who are being raised by grandparents or in foster care because their parents have lost custody due to addiction. For obvious reasons, children need to be raised in safe and loving homes. Without treatment, many moms and dads struggling with opioid addiction won’t be up to the job.
With all of that in mind, I commend Virginia lawmakers who are working in the interest of public health and public safety to expand treatment options. The Addiction and Recovery Treatment Services initiative, which has always had strong bipartisan support, is a fine example. By expanding access to community and residential substance abuse treatment, it has reduced substance abuse-related emergency room visits by participating Medicaid patients by 31 percent.
But there is more that we can do here in Virginia. Many addicts who work low-wage jobs earn too much to qualify for Medicaid but not enough for private insurance. Without insurance, most cannot afford the treatments that lead to recovery. And without recovery it’s pretty difficult to stay in school, participate in job training and be fully responsible for the well-being of your family.
The best solution to this challenge is to make Medicaid coverage available to more Virginians who are struggling to make ends meet. That could happen in the next couple of weeks when statehouse lawmakers reveal their budget proposals, which could include saying yes to Medicaid funding that would enable nearly 400,000 Virginians – most of whom are working – to gain health care coverage. Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have been speaking positively about this opportunity, and it has the backing of a number of business groups and the major hospital systems across our state.
This shouldn’t be a political issue. We need to recognize there are many more losers than winners if we don’t make meaningful progress in solving the opioid problem. I know based on countless interactions with lawmakers of both parties that neither party has a monopoly on caring or good sense – and I believe all have the capacity to work together to improve the health and well-being of our citizens.
It’s a tragedy for far too many children and their families when parents get caught in the cycle of addiction. We have an opportunity to expand access to treatment and recovery for addicts — and reduce crime — by expanding Medicaid coverage to more Virginians. We can do this, because we must.