Sen. Patty Murray listens as recovering addicts Daniel Veach and Rachel Weaver talk about the need for Medicaid to continue their recovery at the Community Health Center of Snohomish County on Thursday in Everett. The U.S. Senate is preparing to vote on a health care bill that, among other steps, could slash funding for both Medicaid and opiate abuse treatment. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Recovering addicts tell Murray about Medicaid’s crucial role

EVERETT — Rachel Weaver said she had bouts of opiate and heroin addiction for 13 years.

She said her story was that of a stereotypical addict: overdosing, being homeless, incarceration, and bouncing in and out of treatment centers.

About nine months ago, that changed for the 31-year-old Lynnwood mom. She saw her life at a crucial crossroads: either die or choose to live.

She chose life. “I said, ‘I’m done.’”

Weaver said she has been clean since then.

On Thursday, she was one of two local patients who told their stories to U.S. Sen. Patty Murray during a meeting at the Community Health Center of Snohomish County’s north Everett clinic.

Murray said she wanted to hear from patients who were treated for opioid addiction as the Senate prepares to vote on a health care bill. Among other steps, it could slash funding for both Medicaid and opiate abuse treatment.

As a Medicaid patient at the Community Health Center, Weaver was able to get treatment for her heroin addiction and has been prescribed Suboxone, which helps prevent withdrawal symptoms and stabilizes patients.

“It has saved my life, I know that,” Weaver said. “I know that without it and the help I got, I would probably be dead.”

Army veteran Daniel Veach, 33, of Everett, said his problems with pain killers began when he severely injured discs in his neck and back and endured pain for about eight years. He said he was prescribed OxyContin by a pain clinic doctor.

“My life was in ruins,” he said. “I never should have been on opiates for it. After that I decided to stop.”

Veach said he looked for information online, learned about Suboxone and called the Community Health Center about a year ago for help.

“I’ve gone from no job and basically living out of my mom’s basement to managing a grocery store. It feels good to be productive,” he said.

His job doesn’t provide health insurance. Without the Medicaid health care benefits, he said he would have to regularly pay $538 for the medication.

Dr. Suzanne Powell, a Community Health Center physician, said she probably sees someone every two weeks who wants to get off opiates or heroin. Without the treatment options offered through Medicaid, the cost would be prohibitive and another barrier to care, she said.

Murray agreed. Without the Medicaid benefits, “we’d be putting a whole bunch of people back on the street,” she said.

In the past year, the Community Health Center has treated 310 patients for opioid addiction. Fewer than 100 of those are on Suboxone, said Dr. Tom Tocher, the clinic’s chief medical officer.

An analysis by Gov. Jay Inslee and state Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler found that 30,000 people in Washington received substance abuse treatment last year, and 10,000 people received medically assisted opiate treatments.

Those services would be severely curtailed by the cuts proposed in the Senate health care bill, according to the analysis.

Murray, a Washington Democrat, said that while there’s been a move to add opiate funding to the proposed health care bill, Medicaid money would be cut. “My guess is that wouldn’t do much good,” she said.

Other proposed changes to the current Obamacare health care law would affect a range of health issues, including providing medical and dental care for Medicaid patients, Murray said.

“It’s the wrong way to go about fixing our health care system,” she said.

Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486; salyer@heraldnet.com.

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