Policy News Roundup: January 13, 2022

    Key reads

    NYC plans public health vending machines to address overdoses

    New York City health officials announced a plan to install 10 “public health vending machines” that would dispense sterile syringes, naloxone and other harm reduction supplies to help neighborhoods hard hit by overdoses. The vending machines are planned for neighborhoods in all five boroughs, with Central Harlem, Union Square, Far Rockaway, Stapleton and East New York presented as priority neighborhoods. The vending machines would also carry toiletries and safe-sex kits, and all items will be free. The request for proposal was issued earlier this month, and the health department will award contracts on January 31.

    Source: New York Plans to Install ‘Vending Machines’ With Anti-Overdose Drugs (New York Times)

    Barriers to medications to treat opioid use disorder must be eliminated

    In a blog, Jennifer Oliva, Taleed El-Sabawi and Shelly Weizman outline barriers to medications for opioid use disorder. These include restrictive regulations, a shortage of prescribers and lack of access to critical pharmacy services (i.e., non-hospital pharmacies are precluded from dispensing methadone and are often unwilling to stock and dispense buprenorphine). They recommend that the federal government revamp the methadone administration system, eliminate sweeping buprenorphine prescriber training mandates in favor of widely available and more specialized training and increase reimbursement. They say the federal government should also include addiction training in medical and nursing schools and ongoing provider education, eliminate treatment restrictions and institute quality measures and incentives to ensure compliance with the standard of care. Other recommendations include tethering federal money earmarked to address the crisis to immediate access to care from every provider at every level, funding and establishing centralized prescriber access available 24/7, and requiring pharmacies to adequately stock and dispense buprenorphine.

    Source: Eliminating Barriers to Opioid Use Disorder Treatment (Harvard Law Petrie-Flom Center)

    Federal news

    GAO reports on improving State Opioid Response grant assessment

    The Government Accountability Office issued a report reviewing the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) State Opioid Response (SOR) grant program, including how SAMHSA assesses the grant program. The program has awarded nearly $5.2 billion since 2018 to states, D.C. and territories for opioid use disorder prevention, treatment and recovery support services. SAMHSA primarily assesses the program through its annual SOR program profile and report to Congress, which present high-level national snapshots of SOR program performance and how grantees are implementing the program. However, neither the profile nor the report to Congress provide information on potential limitations associated with the assessment or fully leverage information available to provide a more in-depth assessment of the program.

    Source: Opioid Use Disorder: Opportunities to Improve Assessments of State Opioid Response Grant Program (Government Accountability Office)

    Lawmakers introduce bill to ensure access to behavioral health treatment during emergencies

    Sens. Ben Ray Luján of New Mexico, Susan Collins of Maine and Bob Casey of Pennsylvania introduced the Securing Uninterrupted Pandemic Preparation of Resources & Therapeutics (SUPPORT) Act to ensure the nation is prepared to address the behavioral health needs that follow natural and human-caused disasters and emergent events, including public health emergencies. It would require the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to support continued access to treatment for mental health and substance use disorder and to report on the agency’s activities and partnerships in supporting services during public health emergencies. It would also direct the Government Accountability Office to evaluate the programs and activities conducted by SAMHSA, its advisory committees and awardees in their mission to continue treatment during the COVID-19 pandemic.

    Source: Luján, Collins, Casey Introduce Bill to Ensure Access to Mental Health Resources During Public Health Emergencies (Senator Ben Ray Luján)

    State and local news

    Colorado Governor Jared Polis announces $1.8 million in funding for the state's Naloxone Bulk Purchase Fund

    Colorado Governor Jared Polis and the state Department of Public Health and Environment announced that $1.8 million in American Rescue Plan funding was allocated to the state’s Naloxone Bulk Purchase Fund to allow eligible entities such as harm reduction organizations, local law enforcement agencies and local governments to access the funds needed to purchase naloxone at no cost.

    Source: Polis Administration announces $1.8 million in funding for harm reduction organizations, local law enforcement agencies, and local governments to access naloxone for free (Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment)

    New York State of the State includes proposals to address the addiction crisis

    New York Governor Kathy Hochul delivered her 2022 State of the State Address and outlined her priorities. These include improving access to behavioral health services for children in low-income households, fighting the opioid epidemic, expanding mobile treatment services, providing supportive recovery housing and integrating mental health services into pediatric primary care. Hochul proposes expanding harm reduction services and evidence-based community interventions. She also calls for creating a Division of Harm Reduction within the Office of Addiction Services and Supports that will implement initiatives that could include requiring pharmacies to maintain a stock of naloxone and buprenorphine, investing in fentanyl test strips and overdose prevention kits, developing a public awareness campaign, creating and implementing an addiction medication treatment program for uninsured individuals and allowing emergency departments and health departments to provide syringes. She also proposes implementing a robust mobile methadone program by developing guidelines, retrofitting existing outpatient mobile treatment units and purchasing additional units, investing in telehealth equipment and creating a voluntary certification process for recovery housing.

    Source: New York State of the State 2022 (Governor Kathy Hochul); LAC Applauds Governor Hochul’s State of the State Proposals to Improve Health Equity and Usher in a New Era of Criminal Legal Reforms (Legal Action Center)

    Fight underway in California on ballot measure to overturn the flavored tobacco ban

    A measure to overturn a state law that bans flavored tobacco products will be on the California ballot this year. When lawmakers approved the ban, they argued that the tobacco industry should not be allowed to market menthol, candy and fruit-flavored e-cigarettes to children. Tobacco companies counter that the law removes legal products from the market that adults should be allowed to use and that it discriminates against Black smokers who favor menthol cigarettes. The California Coalition for Fairness, funded by R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. and Philip Morris USA and its affiliate U.S. Smokeless Tobacco Co., is trying to overturn the law with a referendum. The coalition raised $21 million in the three months after the law was signed. Health care groups have banded together to defeat the measure but have just $2.7 million in contributions, nearly 60% of which has come from former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

    Source: California Ballot Will Be Heavy on Health Care (Kaiser Health News)

    New Jersey legislature passes bills to expand access to clean syringes

    The New Jersey legislature passed a bill that removes the need for municipalities to pass an ordinance to allow needle exchanges to open in their borders. Applications for new exchanges would be applied for with the state health department. This would leave the municipality only in control of the service’s location through zoning approval, but they would no longer be able to reject the service outright. The legislature also passed a bill to decriminalize the possession of syringes.

    Source: NJ legislature votes to repeal municipal approval for needle exchanges (NorthJersey.com)

    Other news in addiction policy

    Set of indicators helps states and localities assess their readiness for opioid settlement funds

    Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health released a set of 10 indicators drawn from the Principles for the Use of Funds From the Opioid Litigation to help policymakers review what their jurisdictions have done to prepare for the influx of funds from the litigation. The indicators address spending the money to address substance use, establishing an effective process, informing evidence-based decision-making and promoting transparency. The document also provides specific actions jurisdictions can take in order to align with each indicator.

    Source: Ten Indicators to Assess the Readiness of State and Local Governments to Receive the Opioid Settlement Funds (Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health)

    Action needed to address youth mental health

    Former Senator Doug Jones of Alabama outlines the youth mental health crisis. He recommends four ways the government can help: improve reimbursement across the full continuum of services and enhance student loan forgiveness for people pursuing careers in mental health and addiction; increase telehealth mental health and addiction services, especially in Medicaid programs and across state lines, so providers can reach underserved, rural and minority communities; fund more community-based mental health and addiction programming and care in schools, neighborhoods and doctors’ offices to help children build resiliency and reduce hospitalizations; and stop criminalizing mental health issues and lift the burden from law enforcement by expanding behavioral health crisis services and covering them for all patients.

    Source: Nowhere to turn: Families are overwhelmed as kids’ mental health needs go unmet (USA Today)

    Advocate for Change

    Join us as we work with grassroots advocates and passionate supporters to change how our nation views and treats addiction.

    Take Action


    January 2022