Policy News Roundup: April 28, 2022

    Key reads

    Biden administration releases National Drug Control Strategy

    The Biden administration released its 2022 National Drug Control Strategy, which focuses on addressing untreated addiction and drug trafficking. It instructs agencies to prioritize actions that will save lives, get people the care they need, go after drug traffickers’ profits and make better use of data to guide efforts. It directs agencies to expand efforts to prevent substance use among school-aged youth and support community-led coalitions implementing evidence-based prevention strategies; establish a federal recovery research agenda; adopt flexible, responsive approaches that help people with addiction find and follow a path to recovery that works for them; and eliminate barriers and increase economic opportunities for people in recovery. It includes specific actions to improve access to medication for opioid use disorder in jails/prisons; identify ways to advance racial equity in the investigation, arrest and sentencing for drug-related offenses while strengthening public safety; divert non-violent individuals from the criminal and juvenile justice systems to treatment; and remove barriers and expand supportive services to help reintegrate people into society after incarceration.

    Source: Biden administration seeks to expand access to treatment amid opioid epidemic (NBC); President Biden Releases National Drug Control Strategy to Save Lives, Expand Treatment, and Disrupt Trafficking (Office of National Drug Control Policy)

    SAMHSA releases new parity resources

    The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration has developed new, free informational resources on the parity law to help inform Americans of their insurance benefits under the law and help state insurance regulators and behavioral health staff better understand parity laws. The resources include a pamphlet explaining parity, what it means to the consumer and the protections the law provides; a guide to resources for families and caregivers, which provides an overview of parity geared toward parents, family members and caregivers with information and tools to help them obtain behavioral health services for children or family members; and a training tool for policymakers, which provides state regulators and behavioral health staff an overview of parity and how to implement and comply with the parity law regarding employer-sponsored health plans and group and individual health insurance.

    Source: HHS’s New Mental Health and Substance Use Disorder Benefit Resources Will Help People Seeking Care to Better Understand Their Rights (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration)

    Federal news

    White House commutes sentences and expands reentry support during Second Chance Month

    As part of Second Chance Month, President Biden pardoned three people and commuted the sentences of 75 people who are serving long sentences for non-violent drug offenses, many of whom would have received a lower sentence if charged with the same offense today, due to the First Step Act. The Administration announced new steps to support those reentering society after incarceration, including a new collaboration between the Departments of Justice and Labor to provide job training; new grants for workforce development programs; greater opportunities to serve in federal government; expanded access to capital for people with convictions trying to start a small business; improved reentry services for veterans; and more support for health care, housing and educational opportunities.

    Source: Statement by President Joe Biden on Clemency and Second Chance Month (White House)

    Rule for menthol ban being finalized amid lobbying push

    As federal officials finalize a plan to ban menthol cigarettes, dozens of interest groups have met with White House staffers to try to influence the process. Biden officials have heard from tobacco lobbyists, anti-smoking advocates, civil rights groups, small business owners and conservative think tanks. An official announcement on the ban could come this week. Meeting materials posted online show nearly all the groups opposing the ban have financial ties to tobacco companies. Anti-tobacco groups are closely tracking the review of the rule, after watching earlier tobacco proposals get shelved or diluted under prior administrations. Amid the lobbying blitz, an investigation of Reynolds American’s lobbying and public relations campaigns to fight menthol bans on the state and federal level found that consultants working for Reynolds have exploited concerns about police brutality against Black citizens and at times failed to declare their links to the industry.

    Source: Plan to ban menthol cigarettes prompts late lobbying blitz (Associated Press); Paid Protesters, Free Lunches and Backroom Chats: Inside the Menthol Lobbying Machine (The Bureau of Investigative Journalism)

    House holds hearing on McKinsey's work for the FDA and opioid manufacturers

    During a House Oversight Committee hearing on consulting firm McKinsey’s simultaneous work with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and opioid manufacturers, House Democrats vowed to continue investigating. McKinsey’s top executive challenged some of the committee’s findings but said the company has overhauled how it does business and no longer works with opioid manufacturers. Lawmakers heard conflicting accounts of whether McKinsey’s work helped Purdue avoid FDA regulation. McKinsey said it was open with the FDA about its pharmaceutical consulting work. Rep. Maloney introduced legislation that would bolster requirements for contractors to disclose potential conflicts. The committee’s Republicans spent most of their time undercutting the relevance of the hearing. They noted the vast majority of opioid overdoses are now caused by fentanyl and heroin, not prescription drugs, and urged tighter border security.

    Source: Lawmakers scrutinize McKinsey’s opioid, FDA consulting work (Associated Press); See also: Congress Has to Ask How Much McKinsey Hurt the F.D.A. (New York Times)

    FDA issues decisions on NJOY e-cigarettes

    The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued decisions on multiple NJOY Ace e-cigarette products, including the authorization of four new tobacco products through the Premarket Tobacco Product Application pathway. The FDA issued marketing granted orders to NJOY for its Ace closed e-cigarette device and three accompanying tobacco-flavored e-liquid pods. The FDA also issued marketing denial orders to NJOY for multiple other Ace e-cigarette products. Applications for two menthol-flavored Ace e-liquid pods remain under review.

    Source: FDA Issues Marketing Decisions on NJOY Ace E-Cigarette Products (Food and Drug Administration)

    State and local news

    California prison MOUD program reduces overdose deaths

    The number of overdose deaths and hospitalizations among California prison inmates fell dramatically during the first two years of a program that offers medications for opioid use disorder (MOUD). The rate of overdose deaths dropped 58% after the program began in 2020. Hospitalizations were 48% lower among those receiving the medications than among those waiting to begin treatment. The program was effective even after accounting for restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic. More than 22,600 inmates have received MOUD, and officials expect to eventually include 25,000 inmates annually, more than a quarter of the prison population. The program far exceeds the volume in any other U.S. correctional setting.

    Source: California inmate overdoses plummet under drug program (Associated Press)

    Maine increases funding for smoking cessation

    The Maine legislature enacted legislation to increase funding for smoking cessation and prevention and treatment programs to $15.9 million, the amount recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The proposal includes $7.5 million in new funding.

    Source: Maine, with region’s highest smoking rate, funds cessation (Associated Press)

    Other news in addiction policy

    Legalization is not a cure-all for the overdose crisis

    The New York Times’ German Lopez explains why simply legalizing and regulating drugs will not solve the overdose crisis. He explains the downfalls of the regulation of opioids that contributed to the opioid crisis. Many options exist between commercialized legalization and criminalized prohibition, and presenting those two as the only options is a false binary. Different drugs can also warrant different approaches.

    Source: The Perils of Legalization (New York Times)

    Bipartisan Policy Center releases recommendations for smarter spending to address the opioid crisis

    The Bipartisan Policy Center’s Opioid Crisis Task Force released a report with recommendations for short- and long-term actions to better inform and strengthen the federal response to the opioid crisis. The recommendations fall into four policy areas – mandatory (directing Medicare and Medicaid dollars toward more coverage, higher reimbursement, provider eligibility, parity), discretionary (funding the things we know work, bringing funding together from similar programs across federal agencies), data (more frequent and actionable metrics), and governance (more coordinated federal response).

    Source: BPC Recommends “Smarter Spending” to Combat the Opioid Crisis (Bipartisan Policy Center)

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    April 2022