Combating addiction and mental illness

Combating addiction and mental illness

Here is my 6th Promise to South Dakota: I am committed to work across the aisle to combat addiction and the mental illness that so often accompanies it.
Addiction, particularly to meth, is ravaging our communities, overwhelming our healthcare system, filling prisons, spiking taxes, adding in big ways to our workforce shortages, and overburdening law enforcement agencies.
It’s the leading reason our prisons have grown at 30 times our population and undermines family stability, school performance and, worst of all, leaves thousands of vulnerable children exposed to harm.
Our political leaders still downplay its profound impact and fail to attack the root of the problem. Their focus is mainly on trying to reduce the supply; but if we fail to meaningfully address the reason for demand, we won’t make progress.
Ninety percent of South Dakota prison inmates have a substance disorder; 80 percent are there for a nonviolent crime. It became clear to me as a judge that imprisoning addicts isn’t the answer; but neither is leaving them untreated to use again and commit additional, sometimes violent crimes.
When we see addiction – and the mental illness that underlies half of all addiction – as the public health epidemic they are, then we’ll begin to strengthen our community health services, develop effective in-patient treatment programs – and combat the root problems that lead to demand.
Many long-term meth addicts require treatment in a secure facility, yet our state’s only such facility is the Intensive Methamphetamine Treatment Unit at the state’s Women’s Prison. No one should need to go to prison to get treatment and prison is a poor place to house addicts and mentally ill people.
We need secure, intensive treatment centers on each side of the state that will address addiction and underlying mental disorders.
State leaders’ rejection of Medicaid Expansion has cost South Dakota dearly: on the order of $300 million each year since 2013, for a total of around $1.5 Billion and counting. While Medicaid is not a plan I would devise, the Republican Congress kept it in place, and we continue to pay federal taxes so that other states’ poor receive medical services to treat their needs, while ours go unmet. Today, with program waivers that allow sliding scale fees, workfare, deductibles, and other innovative approaches, many other Republican-led states receive billions for care of their poor, resulting in fewer in prisons and more in the workforce, all while we in South Dakotans pay federal taxes to support them.
Here is the reality: 75 percent of us have some form of subsidized health coverage–many with moderate and high incomes– through tax-deductible employer sponsored healthcare. Those tax breaks often equal several thousands of dollars annually; others qualify for ACA subsidies. Yet some 50,000 South Dakotans lack any coverage and they’re not all poor: many run small businesses or work jobs that don’t offer health coverage while they earn too much for ACA subsidies and have seen costs skyrocket. Many more have coverage with high out-of-pocket costs. They get health care; it just is untimely and costly.
That leaves us with this reality: many people in prison lacked access to treatment for their mental illness and addiction; but once they’re in prison, we provide them free health care, paid for by a lot of taxpayers who cannot afford their own.
That’s why I support a Medicare option for anyone without access to affordable coverage.
The profound negative impact across our state caused by the lack of affordable healthcare for South Dakotans is a key reason I seek a seat in Congress. I am committed to work across the aisle to combat addiction, and exorbitant insurance costs for ordinary South Dakotans, who’ve been long ignored by politicians who take care of the wealthy and powerful and too often leave the rest of us without a voice in Congress.