Policy News Roundup: May 19, 2022

    Key reads

    Fentanyl is the new target of punitive policies

    Fentanyl is the new “public enemy number one,” following the approach to crack cocaine in the 1980s. Fear of fentanyl and a desire to look proactive are driving many state lawmakers to take approaches that in the past have caused more harm than good. These include punitive policies that lock up those who deal and use for lengthy periods of time, contributing to mass incarceration. Evidence shows that such approaches are ineffective, and that public health and harm reduction policies like expanding access to medications for opioid use disorder (MOUD) and making fentanyl test strips available are effective. However, a number of states are passing laws to increase penalties for drug crimes and specifically fentanyl, fueled by fear and misinformation about fentanyl.

    Source: State Laws Are Treating Fentanyl Like the New Crack—And Making the Same Mistakes of the 80s and 90s (Time)

    Increase in substance-related deaths seen among seniors in the past decade

    The past decade has seen an increase in substance-related deaths among seniors. A new report from UnitedHealth Group found that for adults ages 65-74, substance-related deaths increased by 147%, the largest percent increase among all age groups. Black adults had the highest rate of substance-related deaths. Reasons for this increased risk include unintentional misuse of prescription opioids, more use of multiple prescription drugs compared to other populations and other factors such as social isolation.

    Source: Seniors see spike in drug-related deaths (Axios)

    Federal news

    House Education and Labor Committee chairs introduce Mental Health Matters Act

    House Education and Labor Committee Chairman Robert Scott (VA-03) and Health, Employment, Labor and Pensions Subcommittee Chairman Mark DeSaulnier (CA-11) introduced the Mental Health Matters Act (H.R. 7780) to support the mental health of children, students, workers and families. It includes mental health policy priorities to support the behavioral health of students and school staff, improve school-based behavioral health care and ensure access to mental health and substance use disorder benefits for workers and their families.

    Source: Chairs Scott, DeSaulnier Introduce Mental Health Matters Act (Education and Labor Committee)

    DOJ expected to end opposition to Philadelphia overdose prevention center

    Next month, the Department of Justice (DOJ) is expected to drop its opposition to a Trump-era case challenging the Safehouse overdose prevention center in Philadelphia. The move would clear the way for centers to open across the country. Two centers in New York are already operating, with NYPD agreeing not to enforce drug use laws at the two centers. The CEO of Housing Works said that DOJ has engaged with researchers and activists as it seeks to create guidance saying states can experiment within certain parameters and that DOJ will be announcing a settlement of the case that allows the Philadelphia site to move forward. Rhode Island enacted a law authorizing a pilot program for harm reduction centers last year, but they have yet to open. California is also considering legislation, as have Arizona, Illinois, Maryland, Missouri, New Jersey, New Hampshire and New Mexico, and cities like Denver, San Francisco and Seattle. Officials from several states have visited the New York sites as they look to open their own facilities.

    Source: New York experiment with government-approved drug use could become a national model (Politico)


    State and local news

    State attorneys general oppose limiting coverage of mental health and substance use treatment

    The attorneys general of Illinois, Connecticut and Rhode Island oppose a decision allowing insurers to limit coverage for mental health and substance use treatment. They filed an amicus brief to the 9th Circuit saying the ruling undermines efforts to combat the opioid epidemic, as it would shift costs to states and impede efforts to expand access to addiction treatment through settlements with opioid manufacturers and distributers. A coalition of health care associations also filed a brief asking for a review of the decision.

    Source: Ruling limiting mental health benefits undermines fight against addiction, three AGs say (Reuters)

    Advisory committee created in Vermont to recommend uses for opioid settlement funds

    Legislation in Vermont, signed into law by Governor Phil Scott on Monday, creates an advisory committee to make recommendations on how to spend the state’s opioid settlement funds. The committee will consist of the state’s health commissioner; a member from the state Senate and House; health care providers; two people who have experienced opioid use disorder; an assistant judge; and representatives from municipalities. The committee will make yearly recommendations to the Vermont Department of Health and legislative committees. The first meeting is expected to be called on or before June 30.

    Source: Vermont Law Creates Panel, Fund for Opioid Settlement (U.S. News)

    Bill creating transportation services to addiction treatment proposed in New York State

    The Democratic-led assembly in New York State approved a bill to create new transportation services for people in need of addiction treatment. If implemented, this measure would provide in-patient, residential and outpatient services for people who travel to treatment. It would include at least one state-run rural and one urban “demonstration” program. The bill now heads to the state Senate.

    Source: New York lawmakers consider transportation for people with addiction (NY1 News)

    Other news in addiction policy

    Telehealth startup Cerebral to stop prescribing most controlled substances

    Following scrutiny, Cerebral, a telehealth startup, will stop prescribing most controlled substances to new customers. They are facing investigations from the Department of Justice and Drug Enforcement Administration regarding their prescribing practices, including the prescription of stimulants such as Adderall. Co-founder Kyle Robertson wrote in an email to staff that they would stop prescribing most controlled substances to new customers on Friday and that they would transition existing patients off of their prescriptions or out of their care by October. However, Cerebral will still offer drugs like Suboxone that treat opioid use disorder.

    Source: Cerebral Says It Will Stop Prescribing Most Controlled Substances (Wall Street Journal)

    New report details importance of stopping sale of flavored tobacco

    A new report by CityHealth and the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids found that taking action to stop the sale of flavored tobacco is crucial in protecting young people from using substances. This report details how the tobacco industry uses flavored tobacco to target young people, first-time users and people of color, and is a gateway to general tobacco use. It proposes policies for cities to adopt such as Flavored Tobacco Restrictions, which prohibit the sale of menthol cigarettes, flavored e-cigarettes and vaping devices. This policy would also target enforcement against the owner of a business selling these products rather than store employees or young people.

    Source: Report: Local Action to End the Sale of Flavored Tobacco Can Save Lives, Protect Young People, and Promote Equity (Tobacco Free Kids)

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    May 2022