Edit ModuleShow Tags

Cover me

Medicaid expansion could help address Oklahoma’s surging meth crisis

As the state works to lessen the impact of the opioid crisis through the work of the Commission on Opioid Abuse, people struggling with opioid addiction are making the switch to the cheaper, more potent effects of methamphetamine. In 2017, methamphetamine (also known as speed or ice) was one of the main contributors to Oklahoma’s overdose deaths. It’s difficult to recover from methamphetamine addiction—most individuals relapse within their first year of treatment. Medicaid expansion would allow the state to serve lower-income populations that are affected by meth use by making addiction treatment available to a greater portion of the state.

The meth crisis is costing Oklahoma communities

Meth has been labelled Oklahoma’s “No. 1 killer” by police, its body count surpassing opioids’. The number of meth-related admissions to alcohol and drug certified treatment providers in Oklahoma doubled between 2012 and 2018, making meth a factor in half of all substance abuse admissions. Because meth is funneled into the U.S. across the southern border, the nation’s meth crisis is hitting Oklahoma hard. The stimulant’s low cost makes it more accessible to rural, low-income communities, and its addictive nature makes it very difficult to quit. Extreme economic stress often contributes to experimentation with the stimulant, especially in rural or urban blue-collar communities where working multiple physically taxing jobs to make ends meet is the norm.

Addiction can also have harsh consequences in Oklahoma’s justice system: One-third of all incarcerated Oklahomans were in prison for drug-related offenses in 2018. Treating addiction as an issue of public health rather than a one of criminality could decrease the number of people in prisons and jails for drug-related offenses. Medicaid expansion would have a two-pronged impact on the criminal justice system, helping people exiting prisons and jails seek treatment so they don’t reenter the criminal justice system, and providing treatment options that help people avoid a scrape with the law in the first place. 

Medicaid expansion would allow more people to seek treatment for addiction 

Using federal funds to expand Medicaid coverage is the best option we have to fight Oklahoma’s meth problem. The loss of life to drug overdoses incurred by failing to expand health coverage has been staggering: A study conducted between 2009 and 2015 found that the lives of roughly 2,300 to 5,500 people struggling with substance use disorders in the U.S. may have been saved by the treatment afforded to them by the expansion of Medicaid eligibility. 

Many Oklahomans with a high risk of drug-related hospitalization or overdose would be eligible for Medicaid if the state expanded coverage. States that rejected Medicaid expansion have been more likely to see hospital closures in rural areas due to financial bankruptcy. Six rural Oklahoma hospitals have shut down in the last nine years, devastating their local economies, and many more are at risk. Patients in areas far from hospitals have fewer opportunities for substance abuse treatment and face significantly longer wait times for the emergency services they would need in the case of an overdose. Accepting federal health care funding could make necessary treatment more accessible to these underfunded and uninsured communities.

The state ballot initiative for Medicaid expansion could help Oklahoma address the meth crisis

Expanding Medicaid would enable existing preventive services and educational initiatives that are overwhelmed, underfunded and understaffed to better serve Oklahoma communities. The 2020 Oklahoma Medicaid Expansion Initiative is an ongoing petition for a state constitutional amendment that would allow the state to accept federal health care funding. Our communities are suffering from the rippling effects of addiction; Oklahoma has the opportunity and the responsibility to enact life-saving change by expanding Medicaid. a

*  *  *

Jensen Armstrong was a summer intern with Open Justice Oklahoma, a project of Oklahoma Policy Institute.