Concerns For the New Year

As we begin the New Year, everyone is concerned about the fiscal crisis that we face as a nation, as a community and as a family. The forecast for economic relief in the future is ...

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As we begin the New Year, everyone is concerned about the fiscal crisis that we face as a nation, as a community and as a family. The forecast for economic relief in the future is very bleak. We know as our leadership grapples with our economic woes that cutbacks in human services are inevitable. We also need to be concerned that our schools are going to suffer tremendously over the next year or two.

Unfortunately, every time we struggle financially as a nation and as a state, the first things to be cut back or eliminated are the services that support the poor, the needy and those with special needs. Educationally, when schools are faced with cuts, they usually eliminate vital support staff that are key to our children's good mental health and overall survival. They also tend to cut programs that encourage the total growth and development of our children. Programs like athletics, the performing arts and cultural arts.

Hopefully as parents, we will become more diligent as we review our school budgets. Before we cut vital services and special programs, let's cut the fat and the perks that have nothing to do with the education of our children. Let us call our school administrators to greater accountability and let us also call our school board to be more effective in their leadership.

Our fiscal crisis potentially could destroy what is left of our not-for-profit community. In recent times, local government has expected the not-for-profit community and the religious community to do more for the poor, the needy and those with special needs. Unfortunately, like government, the not-for-profit community and the religious community need funds to do their human services work effectively.

It is delusional to expect the not-for-profit community and the religious community to pay professionally trained workers a substandard wage. But unfortunately, government does expect us to operate with that unjust standard. Housing, insurance, healthcare and other basic essentials have become so expensive that it is impossible to live on what some government contracts pay professional workers. If those concerns are not addressed in the near future, that system of support is going to collapse.

My greatest concern is the dwindling resources for young people and families in crisis. If you have an out-of-control teenager, where do you go and what do you do? Depending on your community, your local youth bureau might have some support services available, or at least a staff person that could connect you with the appropriate services you need. You also might live in a community, where the religious community provides a network of human services for those in need.

However, the reality of life is that most communities have little or nothing readily available to families in crisis. If you are fortunate enough to get someone on the phone when you're seeking assistance, the real challenge is getting access to the services you need.

If you need mental health services, most free services or services on a sliding scale, usually have extensive waiting lists. If you need any kind of psychiatric services for evaluation and/or prescriptions, those waiting lists are even more extensive.

What is even more troubling is that even if you have insurance, insurance coverage oftentimes does not provide the care that you need in a timely fashion. Sometimes the co-pays make the ongoing use of services financially out of reach for some of the insured. This dilemma is not going to get better; it is going to get worse.

The other troubling factor regarding insurance, especially when it comes to mental health and drug and alcohol treatment, is that insurance companies are not interested in the patient's well-being; they are only interested in saving money. Be sure to read the fine print, especially when it comes to addiction treatment. Most of us do not have to face these issues until we have a child in need of treatment.

Everyday, I have families calling me asking for assistance in helping to get their teenage children drug and alcohol services. Drug and alcohol abuse are on the rise, whether we want to believe it or not. Our own young people refer to two of our local high schools as the Pharmacies.

Our teenagers have access to every street drug imaginable. Right now, prescription drugs, along with heroin, are the rage. It is a very lucrative business, and too many high school students are making money selling drugs to their classmates.

JK is a local dealer who just got busted. He is a junior in high school, basically a good kid and a good student. He found he could make a lot of money selling prescription medication that he stole from his parents medicine cabinet. He also found it very lucrative to provide marijuana for his friends. He did all of this very discreetly, until one day, a boy in class overdosed on prescription medication he bought from JK. When he came into the emergency room, he was frightened and confessed everything. That's how the police got involved, and eventually arrested JK.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of JK's in our neighborhood. They are making a ridiculous amount of money on exploiting nave middle school and high school students. These drug dealers are nave as well. They are basically high school kids trying to make a fast buck. Most are not connected to the real drug lords who are really infecting our larger community.

This is a very complicated issue because many adults are in denial of the seriousness of this problem. In addition, we have a significant number of adults who don't believe dealing pot is a problem. There are also adults who don't see the seriousness of prescription drugs being bought and sold on high school campuses as a crisis.

The new phenomenon that is infecting our high school campuses across the County is the use of heroin. Access is easy, and it's relatively inexpensive. Students don't merely shoot up heroin, they snort it. It's highly addictive and very lethal. Equally as troubling is access to treatment for those who desire it.

If a teenager has become a heroin addict, it is highly unlikely that he or she will be able to sustain recovery without some form of intense residential treatment. Unfortunately, most insurance companies want you to try outpatient treatment first, before they will pay for residential treatment. That philosophy is dangerous because the young person could die before he or she receives the appropriate treatment for this very serious addiction.

The other alarming issue that as a parent you should be aware of is that some insurance companies will approve residential treatment, but only pay for five out of the 28 days recommended by the rehabilitation center. After the insurance runs out, your son or daughter is discharged. That is unconscionable and is happening every day! Some rehabs will cover themselves by referring the patient to a sober house.

The sober house and/or halfway house is an interesting concept, and in theory, if implemented correctly, could genuinely support someone in early recovery, even someone with a heroin addiction. The problem is that too many sober houses are not staffed professionally. There is little or no accountability, and especially when it comes to teenagers, they are not life-giving environments that support ongoing recovery and wellness.

The real crisis is that there are literally no residential treatment programs for adolescents without insurance that specialize in heroin addiction. The bureaucracy for getting insurance if you're under 18 is overwhelming and if you are eligible it could cost you your life.

We need to address this crisis now! Our children's livelihood could depend upon it.