Dear Bill Keller, Please Start Taking Drug Addiction Treatment Seriously

In his closing contribution to the New York Times, Bill Keller laments President Obama’s unwillingness to invest in drug addiction treatment. It’s a common jab, made by many commentators (see for example here and here).

It is also embarrassingly, verifiably, wrong.

I am sure Mr. Keller and all the other journalistic critics of Obama’s drug treatment record have heard of The Affordable Care Act. Why don’t they know that it expands access to care for over 60 million Americans by mandating that drug treatment coverage be included in every plan and be at parity with that for other disorders? How can they further not know that the Obama Administration’s regulations for the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act provide benefit parity to more than 100 million Americans with employer-provided health insurance? More generally, how can they not know that independent analysts at CMS consider the current public policy environment the most dramatic improvement in the quantity and quality of addiction treatment in U.S. history?

I submit that Keller and his fellow critics would never confidently make such data-free assertions about cardiology, oncology or indeed any other area of the health care system. But drug treatment, like drug addiction, is a target of great stigma and ignorance. So why bother to take it seriously enough to check your facts like you would with health care for any other group of patients?

I take Keller at his word that he doesn’t want drug treatment to be a third-class part of our health care system. That’s why I feel comfortable asking him to please start taking it seriously himself. Rather than use his platform to make assertions that are demonstrably inaccurate, I hope he will in the future engage in the due diligence any other area of health care would receive from a serious journalist.

Author: Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is the Esther Ting Memorial Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University and an Honorary Professor of Psychiatry at Kings College Lonon. His research, teaching and writing have focused on addictive disorders, self-help organizations (e.g., breast cancer support groups, Alcoholics Anonymous), evaluation research methods, and public policy related to health care, mental illness, veterans, drugs, crime and correctional systems. Professor Humphreys' over 300 scholarly articles, monographs and books have been cited over ten thousand times by scientific colleagues. He is a regular contributor to Washington Post and has also written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Monthly, San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian (UK), The Telegraph (UK), Times Higher Education (UK), Crossbow (UK) and other media outlets.