Michigan Legislature reaches deal allowing for 2 days of absentee ballot pre-processing before election

Opinion: Don't block experienced drug counselors

By Michael Meza

Just read the headlines and it’s clear we have a problem: “Michigan falls short in frontline treatment for opioid crisis”; “The rise of deadly street opioid leads to more overdoses”; or “Michigan Roulette: The rise of a deadly street opioid.” So, you would think our state government would be encouraging more treatment professionals to enter the field. Instead, it is dissuading them.

Often, people who are best at helping those with addictions find recovery are those who have been there themselves. People like myself, a recovery support specialist and transitional house manager with Dawn Farm in Ypsilanti. For people like me growing up in the 90s, an altered state of mind was the norm. Stints in the Michigan Department of Corrections and boot camp for larceny and drunken driving never did the trick. It wasn’t until I was guided by experienced and dedicated social workers that I was shown a different way.

People who suffer from substance use disorders can relate better to people who not only have the credentials but came from where they came from, Meza writes.

Some of these experienced social workers have what the state would consider serious convictions. Like Matt Statman, a licensed social worker and certified advanced alcohol and drug counselor who runs the Collegiate Recovery Program at the University of Michigan. Statman has a felony drug manufacturing and delivery conviction from 1997 – the end of a long and storied battle with addiction that led him around the country and in and out of rehab on multiple occasions. It took people who believed more than he did that he could recover from his illness.

Our stories are not uncommon. In fact, in the world of addiction treatment it’s more often the norm. People who suffer from substance use disorders can relate better to people who not only have the credentials but came from where they came from. And people with lived experiences like ours often carry criminal convictions with them the rest of their life, like one woman I know who went in and out of prison several times before she got it right and is now a clinician at a local substance use treatment center in Ann Arbor. 

When you hear these stories, it boggles the mind as to why the Medicaid Services Administration of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services would create a so-called Medicaid Provider Fitness Criteria that in effect bans these very people from doing what they do best.

Last year when it proposed this same policy, its own counterpart in the Behavior Health Administration of MDHHS opposed the policy out of recognition for the value of providers with lived experience. Sure, they agreed to rewrite the policy, but it isn’t much better. People like myself, and thousands of others would be at risk of being excluded from the very profession where we are needed most. It is a move that does so much more damage than good. Especially in the times of the worst opioid epidemic this country has ever known.

The MDHHS should be working to ensure that residents in Michigan have access to as many avenues as possible for health care. This proposed policy takes the state in the wrong direction and will have a negative impact on our quality of care overall, especially in combating the opioid crisis. As it moves to decide on this proposal, the department should keep in mind the folks who are the most in need and reject this rule.

Michael Meza is a recovery support specialist and transitional house manager for Dawn Farm in Ypsilanti.