Georgia has a unique opportunity with gambling to do something innovative to solve a long standing problem that plagues our state.  The solution is to take the proceeds from gambling and put it into EFFECTIVE long term mental health and addiction treatment to start healing individuals and families across our state that have been torn apart by this epidemic.

Mental/Behavioral health and addiction impacts SO many people and systems in our state.   You can talk to just about anyone, and they have a loved one that is broken, hurting and addicted.  You can look at any problem in our state, from the homelessness problem, to the suicide rate, or the high rates of overdosing, to veterans with PTSD, or the overburdened DFACS system, the clogged court system, the overcrowded jails and the school systems struggling to teach kids and improve graduation rates because of home life problems.   We can begin to really fix the problems at the core and heal lives, and put families back together.  We can relieve the burden on our schools systems and DFACS systems designed to protect and educate children to ensure them a better and brighter future.

Mental health and addiction affects 23.5 MILLION people in our nation today.  2.6 MILLION receive treatment, barely 11 percent of the people impacted, and many times, the treatment they need is substandard and ineffective because they don’t get the help they need long term to heal the drivers of addiction.  Georgia ranks among the lowest in funding for these mental health programs.

We currently have a system, where addicts go in to a hospital or a treatment center for 30 days or less, get off drugs temporarily and then they are put right back into the environment they came from and they relapse, creating a cycle of failure that reinforces a core negative belief that they already have about themselves, further driving addictive behavior.  Or, as an alternative, they get into our criminal justice system and finally get the help they need because MOST people can’t afford treatment and current treatment programs don’t really get to the root of the mental illness (or trauma) that is driving the addiction.

There are new paradigms in mental health and addiction treatment.  The biggest one is the understanding that the opposite of addiction is NOT sobriety, but CONNECTION. Teaching addicts new methods of coping, healing and shifting the trauma so they can stay clean and sober long term and live a successful life without turning to drugs is key to successful treatment.

Most of the effective treatment programs seem to be coming out of the non-profit world and delve into the spiritual, emotional and mental aspects of addiction, leaving lifelong lasting effects.   Non-profits usually treat people from 6 months up to 2 years and they successfully get people clean, coping and connected to a job and purpose which helps them shed the need to “check out” with drugs, alcohol, gambling, pornography or the myriad of methods they are using to numb internal pain driving the addiction.   The non-profits still cost money, and most people can’t afford to pay for it, so most of our population goes untreated.  Gambling could change that.

There are two reasons stated for not allowing gambling in our state. The first is gambling addiction. The fact is, the addictions already exist.  It manifests in a myriad of ways that harm the family unit, gambling, alcohol, drugs, and pornography.  When we have the resources to treat these people and the drivers of the addiction, they can live life free of the addiction.

The second reason is because of the blight around the casino areas.  This is all driven by drug activity.

Homelessness, drug dealing, low level street drug dealing.  None of this would exist if we begin to heal hurting, broken people and get them connected to their bigger purpose.  Take the customers away from the drug dealers, attack the problem in a new innovative way and prevent the blight.

By developing effective programs with gambling revenue we can heal lives, put families back together, get people off the streets and proactively start to impact many systems across our state in a positive proactive way instead of reactively responding to the fallout of addictive behavior.  It’s time to try something new and revolutionary and really start solving the problems that exist at the root level.  Gambling revenue gives us a unique opportunity to do that.

State Rep. Paulette Rakestraw serves has served District 19, (near Powder Springs) since 2011


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