Don’t Link Drug Crisis To Medicaid Program

Editor, News-Register:

Open Letter to Congressman David McKinley:

Dear Representative McKinley:

Marchers of Ohio Valley Empowered (MOVE) requested a town hall meeting to discuss a variety of concerns. We were perplexed that you decided we, in your home community, are a threat and opted for a heavily guarded and restricted round table. Your security entourage allowed me into the round table discussion with MOVE. I had come to ask about the proposed budget and its effects on USDA programs so important to West Virginia farmers and rural communities.

But it was something you said about health care that I can’t get out of my mind. I understood you to say that we should think about a statistical correlation between the Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act and the rise in opioid addiction.

It reminds me of another instance where there was a very publicized but curious misuse of correlation. I have a great admiration for the people that started the Wellness Center at WVU back in the 1980s. However, much to my dismay, in the late 1980s, they sponsored a public service announcement linking West Virginia’s obesity problem to whole milk. They touted drinking less milk as a key element in fighting obesity. At the time I was working as a research assistant in animal nutrition at WVU’s Davis College of Agriculture. I had to call my friends at the Wellness Center and ask, “Do you really think obesity rates are rising in West Virginia because people are drinking too much milk?”

This was over a decade before West Virginian Morgan Spurlock put out the film “Super Size Me,” but it was obvious to me that they may want to look into the rise in purchases of fast food from places like McDonalds, rather than blame Darcy, my Jersey cow. Interestingly, WVU hospital is home to a Ronald McDonald House and the funding it brings. It is a lot easier to pick on West Virginia dairy farmers than McDonalds.

I am asking you please do not promote false use of data. To say that there is a correlation between the Medicaid expansion and the rise in opioid addiction is a use of data that is a best misleading, and at the worst the kind of outright manipulation of facts being used to deliberately hoodwink and destroy what is left of a commitment to truth, justice and the American way. Do you really think opioid addiction, which has been on the rise for 20 years, is happening due to recent Medicaid expansion?

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH):

Addiction is defined as a chronic, relapsing brain disease that is characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences. It is considered a brain disease because drugs change the brain; they change its structure and how it works. These brain changes can be long lasting and can lead to many harmful, often self-destructive, behaviors.

To meet the demands of this public health crisis, I would hope our political leaders focus on increasing research in areas of neuroscience, brain disease prevention and treatment. Addiction is a brain disease that has been on the rise for 20 years. People aren’t dying of overdoses because they just got covered by Medicaid.

Please don’t try to make political hay out of a serious and deadly brain disease epidemic. We witnessed what happened when a president of the United States enabled the spreading of an epidemic by pretending that diseases could choose their victims by some sociological grouping. People didn’t die of AIDS because they were homosexuals, people died of AIDS because they were infected with a virus. Shamefully, powerful people used a correlation between AIDS and the sexuality of the young men dying of the disease, to inflame prejudice, and withhold funding for research.

So, for over a decade, young men and women died for lack of scientific intervention in the most scientifically advanced country in the world.

It is imperative that we as Americans, protect our families from this type of deadly manipulation of data. Opioid addiction like other diseases affects human beings, not insurance groupings. Correlations are not causation. Correlations can be used to promote false assumptions and gross generalizations as well as pathways to scientific inquiry.

Please, Congressman McKinley, you have been entrusted with much power. Do not use that power to spread ideas that sabotage the discovery of cures to diseases like chemical addiction. We need to keep a focus on true scientific inquiry. For many in our West Virginia families this is a matter of life and death.

If you are looking for correlations that might guide us to increased knowledge of the roots of opioid addiction, why not start with the chemicals involved? The majority of West Virginians struggle to find ways to get basic health care, while living on some of the lowest incomes in the nation. There are alternative therapies and interventions for basic health and pain control approved by the American Medical Association (AMA), but not covered by Medicare, Medicaid and many private insurance policies.

Listen to the question that one of the members at the round table brought up. Why are non-chemical treatment options like massage therapy, acupuncture, kinesiology, holistic medicine and chiropractic often not covered by our insurance? What about the correlations between a 20 year rise in the distribution of addictive chemical treatments, pharmaceutical company profits, and pharmaceutical company political contributions?

Blanche Rybeck



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