Policy News Roundup: November 4, 2021

    Key reads

    Judge rules drug companies are not liable for California counties’ opioid crisis

    In the lawsuit brought by Santa Clara, Los Angeles and Orange Counties and the City of Oakland against Allergan, Endo, Johnson & Johnson and Teva, a California state judge ruled that the companies cannot be held liable for the state’s opioid crisis. The counties had argued that the companies used false and misleading marketing to push up the sale of prescription opioids, while the companies denied any wrongdoing. If found liable, the companies likely would have been forced to pay for a wide range of public health and drug treatment programs. In his ruling, the judge said it was unclear the drug industry’s marketing efforts led directly to a rise in illegal use of prescription opioids. He said that the plaintiffs failed to prove an actionable public nuisance for which the defendants are legally liable. The ruling is a significant victory for the drug industry as many similar cases are underway.

    Source: A California court says drug companies aren’t liable for the state’s opioid crisis (NPR)

    National Academy of Medicine discusses how to improve behavioral health services amid COVID-19 and racial inequities

    The National Academy of Medicine published a discussion paper on improving behavioral health services amid COVID-19 and racial inequities. It outlines the impact of racial inequities and the pandemic on behavioral health. The paper proposes reconfiguring delivery systems, specifically calling for reforming crisis care, expanding prevention services and strengthening early intervention programs. Investing in minoritized communities, coupled with accountability to achieve equity, can improve outcomes for people with mental health and substance use disorder.

    Source: Improving Behavioral Health Services in the Time of COVID-19 and Racial Inequities (National Academy of Medicine)

    Federal news

    Senate confirms ONDCP director

    The Senate confirmed Dr. Rahul Gupta as the director of National Drug Control Policy. Gupta is the first medical doctor ever to lead the Office of National Drug Control Policy. Gupta most recently served as the chief medical and health officer, interim chief science officer and senior vice president at March of Dimes. He previously served as the chief health officer of West Virginia, where he led the opioid crisis response efforts and launched several public health initiatives, including the Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome Birthscore program to identify high-risk infants.

    Source: United States Senate Confirms Dr. Rahul Gupta as Director of National Drug Control Policy (White House Office of National Drug Control Policy)

    Reconciliation parity enforcement provisions at risk

    Currently in the proposed reconciliation package is a provision empowering the Department of Labor to fine health plans and employers that violate parity (requiring access to mental health care that is on par with other medical care). Supporters say the fines will give the department an effective enforcement tool, as plans are currently only cited for violations and agree to come into compliance and reimburse beneficiaries. Employer groups say the new fines amount to an ineffective pay-for meant to offset some of the cost of the spending package. They argue the fines will not address problems that keep individuals from accessing mental health services such as the lack of providers participating in networks. Business groups say Democrats should pull the provision out of the package. Insurance plans are working to prevent the provision from being included. Send a letter to your Senators urging inclusion of this parity enforcement provision.

    Source: Business Groups Try to Ax Fines for Mental Health Coverage Flaws (Bloomberg Government)

    CDC launches overdose prevention education campaign for young adults

    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) launched four complementary education campaigns, intended to reach young adults aged 18 to 34. The campaigns provide information about the prevalence of and dangers of fentanyl, the risks and consequences of polysubstance use, the life-saving power of naloxone and the importance of reducing stigma around drug use to support treatment and recovery. The CDC spoke with young adults who use drugs and peer recovery professionals to develop the campaigns. Each campaign includes new resources on all four topics to help people make informed decisions, get the help they need and reduce the rise in overdoses and overdose deaths.

    Source: CDC Launches New Education Campaigns Aimed at Preventing Drug Overdose Deaths (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

    State and local news

    Alabama and Ohio reach settlements with opioid companies as trials get underway

    Alabama settled claims against Endo and is in talks with McKesson, putting on hold a trial of the state’s case against the two companies that was set to begin this week. Alabama was one of six states that declined to join the $26 billion settlement with the distributors and Johnson & Johnson. Meanwhile, pharmacy chain Giant Eagle agreed to settle claims in 10 lawsuits in Ohio. The trial for the case Lake and Trumbull Counties brought against Giant Eagle, Walgreens, CVS and Walmart is in its fourth week.

    Source: Alabama settles opioid claims against Endo, in talks with McKesson (Reuters); Pharmacy chain operator Giant Eagle settles Ohio opioid lawsuits mid-trial (Reuters)

    Rhode Island receives Department of Labor funding for job creation and training to address the opioid crisis

    The Department of Labor announced $1.3 million in incremental funding to the Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training to support the creation of jobs and workforce training services in five counties that have suffered significant impacts from opioid use, addiction and overdose. The Opioid Disaster Recovery Dislocated Worker Grants create temporary jobs and provide services to reintegrate workers affected by the crisis and train individuals to work in addiction treatment, mental health treatment and pain management. This award is the final allocation of a $3.9 million grant announced in April 2019.

    Source: US Department Of Labor Awards $1.3M In Funding To Continue Employment, Training Services To Combat Rhode Island’s Opioid Crisis (Department of Labor)

    Pennsylvania governor’s administration supports harm reduction expansion legislation

    Members of Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf’s administration joined with the Pennsylvania Harm Reduction Network, members of the General Assembly and other advocates and stakeholders in support of expanding access to harm reduction services for individuals struggling with substance use disorder. Wolf and administration officials urged lawmakers to pass legislation to legalize syringe services programs across the state. Currently, syringe services programs are authorized by the cities of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. SB 926 and a forthcoming House bill would legalize the programs in the state. They also urged passage of legislation to legalize fentanyl test strips, as HB 1393 and SB 845 would do.

    Source: Wolf Administration Highlights Need To Expand Access To Life-Saving Harm Reduction Services (Pennsylvania Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs)

    Other news in addiction policy

    Mental health and care access issues worsening amid the pandemic

    Mental health care was already inequitable and lacking, but the pandemic made it worse. The COVID-19-related loss, stress, isolation and treatment disruption increased the number of Americans struggling with mental health. Many do not have access to care, including some of those hit hardest by the pandemic (i.e., low-income families and people of color). Young adults and people of color are disproportionately reporting anxiety or depression symptoms. The increasing number of children struggling with mental health need additional care in their homes, schools and communities. The mental health care system has long struggled with provider shortages and spotty insurance coverage, but demand spiked during the pandemic, and many providers are burned out. People in rural areas, non-English speakers and children face particularly acute provider shortages. The rise in tele-mental health care has helped reduce barriers such as travel time, wait lists and stigma, but regulation is lacking. Alcohol use increased during COVID-19, and overdose deaths are at an all-time high. Amid the COVID-19 response, public health departments are pulling back from other issues, including the overdose crisis.

    Source: Axios AM Deep Dive: Our mental health crisis (Axios)

    Campaign launched to urge legislation and funding to address the youth mental health emergency

    The Children’s Hospital Association, American Academy of Pediatrics and American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatrists launched “Sound the Alarm for Kids,” urging Congress to enact legislation and increase funding to address a national mental health emergency in children and teens. The campaign includes digital ads, radio spots and video ads. Over 75 groups have pledged their support in recognizing children’s mental health as a national emergency. Community Catalyst proposed recommendations for the federal and state governments to address this national emergency. These actions include expanding school-based mental health and providing sustainable funding for it, promoting public health approaches to youth substance use, integrating substance use prevention and early intervention into youth suicide prevention strategies and providing more robust guidance on racial justice and health equity.

    Source: “Sound The Alarm For Kids” Raises Awareness Of National Mental Health Emergency In Children And Teens (Sound the Alarm); We Need Action on Youth Mental Health and Substance Use (Community Catalyst)

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