Tuesday, 29 March 2016, President Obama participated in a panel discussion at the National Prescription Drug Abuse and Heroin Summit in Atlanta.
(President Obama listens to Crystal Oertle and Justin Riley [pictured left] as they tell their stories of recovering from substance use addiction. Image courtesy The White House.)The President heard from two individuals, Crystal Oertle and Justin Riley, who are both recovering from substance use disorder.
Oertle, a 35-year-old mother of two, told the listening audience how she became addicted -- first to prescription drugs, then to heroin.
"I think my path into addiction, which eventually was heroin addiction, is pretty similar to a lot of people’s stories," Oertle said. "They start out with the Vicodin, low milligrams, not knowing how addictive it can be, using it recreationally until then they need it.
"That’s what happened with me. It slowly happened from weekend to then needing it throughout the week, needing something to go to work. Eventually I needed something stronger than the Vicodin. I was doing OxyContins, Dilaudid, things like that, until that eventually led into me doing heroin," Oertle continued.
Hearing Ms. Oertle's story, President Obama said it was "heartbreaking."
"I want to make sure that for all the other Crystals out there who are ready to make a change that they're not waiting for three months or six months in order to be able to access treatment," Obama said. "We've got to make sure that in every county across America, that's available. And the problem we have right now is that treatment is greatly underfunded.
"Our task force, when we were looking at it, figured out that in about 85 percent of counties in America, there are just a handful or no mental health and drug treatment facilities that are easily accessible for the populations there," the President said.
"So if you get a situation in which somebody is in pain initially because of a disk problem, they may not have health insurance because maybe the governor didn't expand Medicaid like they should have under the ACA. They go to a doctor one time when the pain gets too bad. The doctor is prescribing painkillers. They run out, and it turns out it's cheaper to get heroin on the street than it is to try to figure out how to refill that prescription. You've got a problem." Obama concluded.
According to a fact sheet released by the White House, Georgia has 159,000 uninsured people with a mental illness or substance use disorder who could have qualified for expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act in 2014.
"Medicaid expansion is an important step Georgia can take to address behavioral health needs, including serious mental illness and opioid and other substance use disorders,” said Health & Human Services Secretary Sylvia M. Burwell.
Governor Nathan Deal refused to expand Medicaid, telling reporters that it would be too expensive for the state of Georgia. In 2014, the Georgia General Assembly passed legislation removing the Governor's ability to expand Medicaid on his own.
It now takes legislative approval before Medicaid can be expanded.