Poll Finds Bipartisan Agreement on One Aspect of Health Care Reform: Addiction Treatment

BALTIMORE—As the debate over health care reform continues on Capitol Hill, a new national poll shows broad, bipartisan support for ensuring that all Americans have access to alcohol and drug addiction treatment. More than three-quarters of all Americans, including 72 percent of Republicans, 88 percent of Democrats, and 72 percent of Independents, support including addiction treatment in health care reform, according to a new poll released by the Closing the Addiction Treatment Gap (CATG) initiative during National Alcohol and Drug Addiction Recovery month.

"Addiction treatment is a gaping hole in our current health care system," said former Rep. Jim Ramstad, who served as co-chair of the House Caucus on Addiction, Treatment and Recovery. "If we fail to treat alcohol and drug addictions, we are not only failing those in need, but are adding to the already heavy burden on our communities, our emergency rooms, our prisons, and our families. Americans across the country and the political spectrum have spoken loud and clear: treatment for alcohol and drug addiction should be fully covered in health care reform."

Despite tough economic times, nearly 70 percent of Americans are willing to pay out of their own pockets to make addiction treatment more accessible and affordable. This support is strong across party lines and all income brackets.

"The results of this poll reveal that the public has a good understanding of the quantum scientific advances that have been made in our knowledge about and successful treatment of alcohol and drug addiction. In the context of current reform, we urge policymakers to take action to address and support this major public health problem of addiction," said Richard Carmona, M.D., M.P.H., FACS, 17th Surgeon General of the United States and Distinguished Professor of the Zuckerman College of Public Health at the University of Arizona.

Carmona added, "We would not allow nine of 10 people to remain untreated with any other disease. Including addiction is not only the right thing to do, but it makes financial and social sense as well."

Americans Willing to Pay More to Expand Treatment

Majorities of Americans, including 80 percent of Democrats, 63 percent of Independents and 67 percent of Republicans, support paying two dollars a month more in health care premiums to make addiction treatment more accessible. And 75 percent of Democrats, 67 percent of Independents and 70 percent of Republicans support an additional tax of five cents a drink on beer, wine, and liquor.

"Americans of all walks of life recognize that addiction can be a life or death health issue," said Victor Capoccia, director of the CATG initiative. "This poll demonstrates that Americans believe in the value of treatment and they want to see it made more accessible and affordable as part of health care reform."

Lack of Availability, and Knowledge About Availability, Leave Americans Vulnerable

Today, 23 million Americans are addicted to alcohol and drugs; sadly, only one in 10 of them get the treatment they need. Those who sought treatment but were unable to get it report that cost and access issues are among the top barriers to recovery. Nearly half of all respondents (47 percent) say there are not enough treatment services in their community while more than a quarter (27 percent) do not know.  Only one in four Americans (26 percent) say there are enough affordable, accessible quality treatment centers and services in their community.

Americans with incomes below $50,000 are most concerned about the lack of treatment options in their community; nearly half (52 percent) report an inadequate number of treatment centers. 

Other groups reporting inadequate treatment options include: African Americans (67 percent), those who know someone with an addiction (58 percent), persons with a family member who is addicted (55 percent), and Americans without health insurance (56 percent).

Addiction Treatment Works, Is Vital To Recovery

The poll also found that 88 percent of Americans say addiction treatment is extremely or very important to helping people get better (including 92 percent of Democrats, 85 percent of Independents and 87 percent of Republicans).

Seventy-seven percent agree that while it is possible to stop on one's own, long-term success is unlikely without treatment and ongoing support (including 78 percent of Democrats, 77 percent of Independents and 77 percent of Republicans).

Conducted by Lake Research Partners, the poll surveyed 1,000 Americans 18 and older between July 25 and July 28, 2009. It has a margin of error of 3.5 percent.

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Closing the Addiction Treatment Gap (CATG) is a national program initiated by the Open Society Institute and involving nine other local and national organizations working to expand addiction treatment. This initiative is designed to create an awareness of-and increase resources to close-an alarming treatment gap: currently, four out of five Americans who need drug and alcohol addiction treatment are unable to get it. The initiative aims to mobilize public support for expanded treatment by increasing public funding, broadening insurance coverage, and achieving greater program efficiency.

The Open Society Institute, a private operating and grantmaking foundation, works to build vibrant and tolerant democracies whose governments are accountable to their citizens. To achieve its mission, OSI seeks to shape public policies that assure greater fairness in political, legal, and economic systems and safeguard fundamental rights. OSI works in over 60 countries in Europe, Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East, as well as in the United States.