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Recovering Utahns rally for health care, drug addiction treatment

Laura Seitz/Deseret News

Recovering Utahns rally for health care, drug addiction treatment

By Katie McKellar | Posted - Mar. 7, 2015 at 8:04 p.m.


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SALT LAKE CITY — Mindy Vincent said her big sister, Maline, was the good one.

She was a devoted member of the LDS Church. She was successful in life and held a good job. But she had difficulty coping with her emotions in a healthy way.

Vincent, a Heber City resident, told Maline Hairup’s story Friday to a crowd of more than 200 people who packed into the Capitol rotunda in support of legislation that would increase Utahns’ access to substance abuse and mental illness treatment, as well as affordable health care.

Many who attended were recovering from mental illness, substance abuse, or had family members or friends who have fought such battles.

Maline did not fit the criteria of a drug addict, Vincent said.

The Utah branch of the National Alliance on Mental Illness and Utah Support Advocates for Recovery Awareness organized the rally to express support for Gov. Gary Herbert’s alternative to Medicaid expansion, Healthy Utah, despite its fall in the House Thursday night. The rally also expressed support for HB348, a criminal justice reform bill that would facilitate better treatment for offenders who struggle with drug addiction and mental illness, as well as make drug possession a misdemeanor.

While the House rejected Healthy Utah and instead on Friday passed the GOP leadership’s counter-proposal, Utah Cares, the House passed HB348 earlier this week, which is still being considered by the full Senate.

With hopes that the fight for Healthy Utah will continue and optimism for criminal justice reform, the rally carried on with passion, and supporters listened as Vincent continued.

She said her sister developed a mental illness that manifested when her emotional problems presented themselves as physical problems in the form of pain and sickness. Doctors prescribed medications to cope, but she eventually became addicted.

“I wasn’t sure what needed to be treated more — her mental illness or her drug addiction,” Vincent said. “But it didn’t matter.”

She said by the time Maline was diagnosed, she lost her job and her health insurance, and she didn’t qualify for Medicaid.

She died of a prescription drug overdose on Aug. 24.

“My sister deserved to recover, and my sister was capable of recovering,” Vincent told the crowd, her voice straining. “When she needed help the most, she couldn’t get it, and I believe the system failed her.”

Vincent said no one should have to endure what her sister endured.

“It’s just not acceptable for somebody to die or to suffer because they can’t get health care,” Vincent said. “To me, health care is a right, not a privilege, and it blows my mind that some people think that people should go without.”

Vincent said she’s trying to stay positive after the House rejected Healthy Utah. She said the Utah Cares bill isn’t enough.

“I just hope we come to an agreement and we can provide insurance and coverage for as many people as we possibly can,” she said.

Jamie Justice, the executive director of the Utah branch of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, said she and other health leaders want the Utah Legislature to recognize the Utahns who will be most impacted by Healthy Utah and criminal justice reform.

She said people struggling with drug abuse and mental illness are being "unjustly criminalized," and they could have higher chances at better lives with improved access to health care.

“We want our legislators to see us — to see both the desperation and the hope in our eyes,” Justice said. “We’re willing them to do what’s right.”

Rep. Eric Hutchings, R-Kearns, sponsor of HB348, spoke to rally supports and told them, “The only reason (HB348) is working is because you guys prove that if we give you a chance, and give you the resources, we can change lives.” Email: kmckellar@deseretnews.com

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Katie McKellar

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