Substance abuse

Proposed bills a ‘step’ in the right direction for substance abuse

Florida faces a substance abuse issue that is impossible to ignore. Community Coalition Alliance includes 14 organizations across Northeast Florida that treat this growing issue daily. Although our state continues to try its best to curb drug usage, it is failing. According to Mental Health America, 15% of Florida adults and 6% of Florida’s youth say they have struggled with a substance use disorder in the past year.

We cannot effectively combat the substance abuse epidemic in our state without addressing the underlying mental health factors at play for those suffering from addiction. Over one in four adults with a serious mental illness have a comorbid substance abuse problem. This trend shows that effectively treating serious mental illnesses may help curb substance abuse in our state.

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When our organization identifies an issue plaguing our communities, we find effective solutions to the problem that will make Florida safer and healthier. That is why the Community Coalition Alliance is proud to support House Bill 183 and its Senate counterpart, SB 112, which will reform step therapy protocols in Florida by allowing those with serious mental illnesses to bypass the step therapy protocol under Medicaid in special circumstances.

Step therapy practices are used by insurance companies to limit the prescription drugs patients can use due to the cost of the recommended treatment. Therefore, patients cannot access drugs their doctor prescribes until they fail on cheaper, older versions of the drug. Patients may have to go through this cycle several times before their insurance will cover the medicine their doctor initially prescribed.

Since it takes weeks to determine if a psychiatric drug works, step therapy prolongs symptoms, and patients may face horrible side effects. These experiences increase the risk of a medical emergency that may require emergency room or in-patient treatment.

Step therapy practices prolong the suffering of our loved ones and neighbors with the hope that the insurance company will save a few dollars. Not only is this morally and ethically wrong, but it is also financially ineffective. Care delays and treatment abandonment caused by step therapy result in increased hospital costs, missed workdays and decreased productivity in the workplace. After the practice is complete, step therapy is more expensive than if the patient received the prescription the doctor initially prescribed.

Restricting step therapy for serious mental illnesses is a commonsense solution that will accelerate access to individualized, high-quality mental health care for those who need it the most. This legislation is a step forward for all Floridians.

Florida’s mental health crisis will not go away on its own. I urge our legislators to support HB 183 and SB 112 this session.

Kathleen Roberts, CEO, Community Coalition Alliance, Jacksonville

This guest column is the opinion of the author and does not necessarily represent the views of the Times-Union. We welcome a diversity of opinions.

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