Too long we have had battling political ideologies promising Hope and Greatness, while our Central Valley remains neglected.
Donald Trump has called the opioid crisis a national public health emergency, while promising to cut health care. Neonatal intensive care units are full of infants shaking with tremors, crying of pain due to opioid addiction. Our morgues, meanwhile, are seeing more young to middle-aged adults who are dying due to overdoses and suicides, especially from Fresno, Kings, Tulare and Kern counties.
Valley families need a robust response that increases health care access instead of threatening it through repeal of the Affordable Care Act.
Although the opioid crisis reaches across age,class, race and gender, some populations are more vulnerable. When infants are exposed to opiates in their mother’s womb, they're born suffering from Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome. It is estimated that a child is born every 19 minutes addicted to opioids. Even as children recover, they are sent back to families that are combatting addiction which is dependent on a fragile healthcare system at risk of being gutted.
The ACA allows families to access behavioral health treatment for substance abuse disorders. If repealed, 220,000 people struggling with opioid disorders would be at risk of losing health care coverage.
Dr. Philip Hyden, medical director for Valley Children’s Hospital Guilds Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Center, has sounded the alarm on rising incidents of child abuse and neglect across the Central Valley, often associated with drug abuse. Increased cases of torture, malnutrition, and a lack of parental bonding and care face many of our valley’s children as drug addiction distorts a parent’s ability to care for their child.
A recent report by the California Endowment found that deaths rates due to accidental drug overdoses among middle-aged white males (ages 25-34) in the Southern Central Valley have increased by 248 percent since the 1990s and may have risen faster for white females. Suicide rates have also increased by 121 percent during the same time.
The President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction has highlighted several solutions including increasing access to Medication Assisted Treatment, which has proven to reduce overdose deaths, retain persons in treatment, decrease use of heroin and reduce relapse. Another solution is to increase the capacity of health providers to provide treatment by granting waivers that address its exclusion within the Medicaid program.
These solutions offer hope that broken families can be mended. Unfortunately, treatment and access are threatened by Congress’s insistence that our citizens should get less help with health access.
The current healthcare system remains a necessary safety net for 20 million that should be strengthened if we are to have a comprehensive solution to the opioid crisis. We must also ask for new treatment centers in our communities.
Questions about why Kern County and other rural areas struggle with opioids cannot be relegated to individual behavior choices. The opioid epidemic is symptomatic of a community condition. Economic instability has impacted rural areas in ways that more urban areas have been better able to overcome.
Kern County supplied 80 percent of the state’s oil but was hit hard in recent years. Jobs have been disappearing, and those that remain are for low wages. State courts have overruled voters in Kern County that no longer want to take Los Angeles sludge, forcing them to continue carrying other parts of the state without being taken care of. The lack of economic security, high rates of poverty, and political neglect have created conditions for anger, depression and drug abuse.
Too often in the Central Valley, we place blame at the individual level alone or at neighbors who do not look like us. Instead, we miss identifying policymakers who have consistently chosen to support policies that do not support working families and instead favor Wall Street and elites. This can be seen in efforts to repeal the ACA so that conditions are better for insurance companies and pharmaceuticals than for those struggling.
The ACA by no means is perfect, but we must ask that it be fixed and not thrown away like the lives of our Valley’s lost generation.
Cristina Gomez-Vidal, a longtime resident of the Central Valley, is currently working on her MSW/PhD at UC Berkeley. The opinions expressed are her own.