Policy News Roundup: October 13, 2022

    Key reads

    Biden issues pardons for federal marijuana possession charges and calls for scheduling review

    President Biden pardoned thousands of people convicted of marijuana possession under federal law and said his administration would review whether marijuana should remain a Schedule I drug. The pardons will clear everyone convicted on federal charges of simple possession since it became a crime in the 1970s, including about 6,500 people convicted between 1992 and 2021. The pardons would also affect thousands of people convicted under D.C. laws. The move will help remove obstacles for people trying to get a job, find housing, apply to college or get federal benefits. Biden urged governors to take similar action at the state level, where most simple possession convictions are. The actions represent a fundamental change in America’s and Biden’s response to marijuana, though Biden stopped short of calling for decriminalization, which Congress would have to do. Biden also asked the attorney general to review how marijuana is scheduled.

    Source: Biden Pardons Thousands Convicted of Marijuana Possession Under Federal Law (New York Times)

    Survey finds that nearly 10% of middle and high school students vape

    Data from the National Youth Tobacco Survey found that in 2022, 14.1% of high school students and 3.3% of middle school students reported current e-cigarette use (2.55 million middle and high school students, 9.4%). Among current e-cigarette users, 42.3% reported using e-cigarettes frequently and 27.6% reported daily use. The types of devices most often used were disposables. Puff Bar was the most commonly reported brand used in past 30 days (29.7%), followed by Vuse (23.6%), Juul (22%), SMOK (13.5%), NJOY (8.3%), Hyde (7.3%) and blu (6.5%). The survey found 84.8% used flavored e-cigarettes, with the most common flavors being fruit (69.1%), candy, dessert or other sweets (38.3%), mint (29.4%) and menthol (26.6%). With the release of the data, the Food and Drug Administration issued a warning letter to Puff Bar for receiving and delivering e-cigarettes in the U.S. without a marketing authorization order, as well as marketing denial orders for 32 Hyde e-cigarettes.

    Source: Notes from the Field: E-cigarette Use Among Middle and High School Students — United States, 2022 (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention); New Data Show More Than 2.5 Million U.S. Youth Currently Use E-Cigarettes (Food and Drug Administration)

    Federal news

    Legislators introduce bill to provide holistic health care for kids

    Senators Tom Carper (D-Del.) and Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) and Representatives Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-Del.) and Michael Burgess (R-Texas) introduced the Kickstarting Innovative Demonstrations Support (KIDS) Health Act of 2022 to establish a “whole child health care” model for children eligible for Medicaid/CHIP. It would authorize a $125 million demonstration program to help states improve coordination between mental health and community health care providers; allow states to establish/enhance payment models that reward doctors for providing higher quality care that helps children stay healthier and invest in workforce recruitment and training; and allow states to design/implement a delivery model in which health care providers partner with community organizations and government agencies to coordinate services across sectors. The measure would also require a Government Accountability Office report evaluating the individual, financial and systems-level impacts associated with models implemented; and require the Department of Health and Human Services to issue guidance on combining federal and non-federal funds to address social determinants of health in low-income populations.

    Source: Carper, Sullivan Lead Colleagues to Introduce Bipartisan, Bicameral Bill to Implement Holistic Approach to Children’s Health Care (Tom Carper)

    Poll finds that most Americans support Biden's recent marijuana actions

    A Politico/Morning Consult poll found strong support for Biden’s actions taken last week to pardon people with federal marijuana possession offenses and potentially re-schedule marijuana. Nearly two-thirds of voters indicated that they support the pardons, and 69% expressed support for potentially changing the classification of marijuana. The poll found 71% of Millennials support the pardons, and 68% support reviewing marijuana’s status. Support was only slightly less robust among Gen Xers and Baby Boomers. Most voters are familiar with the actions, with more than two-thirds saying they had heard a lot or some about the actions. Only 55% of Gen Zers were supportive of the pardons, but Gen Z was the least likely to have heard the news. Roughly 80% of Democrats supported both actions; 57% of Republicans supported the potential reclassification, while just 46% backed the pardons. Black voters expressed the strongest support, with 74% supporting the pardons, compared to around two-thirds of White and Latino respondents.

    Source: Poll: Most Americans back Biden’s marijuana moves (Politico)

    Increased share of federal spending going to children

    The share of federal spending on children climbed to a historic 11.98% of the U.S. budget in FY 2022, producing declines in child poverty, hunger and the rate of children without health insurance. The share of U.S. domestic and international spending on children rose 21% over the last 5 years, making up 11.98% of all federal spending in FY 2022, compared to pre-pandemic, when the share was only 7.55%. Congress has begun backing off these investments, however, with inflation-adjusted dollars for children dropping nearly 17% between FY 2021 and FY 2022. Since 2017, funding for children’s mental health has increased by 11.3%. The share of federal spending dedicated to education programs increased by 105%, the share dedicated to justice and child protection increased by 28%, children’s nutrition programs by 36% and child income support programs by 21%. However, the share of spending going to early childhood declined by 10%, children’s health by 11%, children’s housing by 14% and youth training by 28%.

    Source: Children’s Budget 2022 (First Focus on Children)

    State and local news

    Harm reduction services lacking in Texas

    State-run harm reduction programs do not exist in Texas, and the legislature has previously batted down efforts to decriminalize the possession and distribution of supplies for substance use and testing. To avoid criminal charges, Texans who use substances will often avoid getting sterile supplies. Advocates operate harm reduction programs across the state in the shadows, regularly giving away these supplies to people who use substances and risking hefty fines and incarceration. Despite the evidence, critics believe harm reduction tools enable and encourage substance use. Senator Ted Cruz has openly criticized harm reduction as a practice. Governor Greg Abbott has favored bolstering border security as a solution to the overdose crisis over harm reduction initiatives. Naloxone is the only harm reduction tool Abbott has openly supported, though its supply is dwindling. Harm reduction programs are limited in the size of the operations they can run, often scrambling to find funding.

    Source: Texas bans many proven tools for helping drug users. Advocates are handing them out anyway. (Texas Tribune)

    Mississippi to reconsider decriminalizing fentanyl test strips

    Some Mississippi lawmakers say they will renew efforts to decriminalize fentanyl test strips after a bill to do so died early this year. The House Drug Policy Committee chairman, a Republican, now supports the effort. Mississippi’s state health officer said he wants people who use substances to seek treatment, but that they also need harm reduction tools in the short-term. He said the test strips are not going to encourage people to use substances. The director of the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics said he has no objections to legislators making test strips legal and already does not consider them drug paraphernalia under state law.

    Source: Mississippi could renew effort for fentanyl testing access (Associated Press)

    Rhode Island preparing to open first state-sanctioned supervised consumption site

    Project Weber in Rhode Island is preparing to open the first supervised drug consumption site legalized by a state, after Rhode Island authorized a two-year trial. Rhode Island plans to use $2 million in opioid settlement money to open the site. The organization still has to submit a more detailed application to the state before receiving funding, and the Providence City Council has to approve the location. In addition to preventing overdoses, the site will also link clients to other services (including treatment if wanted). It will offer HIV and hepatitis C testing, safe use supplies, syringe disposal, drug checking tools and initial doses of buprenorphine. The site will be located on a bus line, close to a hospital and far from schools and Providence’s downtown.

    Source: As Overdoses Soar, Rhode Island Embraces a Daring Addiction Strategy (New York Times)

    Other news in addiction policy

    Survey highlights prevalence of mental health concerns in America

    A KFF/CNN survey found that 90% of adults think there is a mental health crisis in the U.S. today, with most saying the opioid epidemic, youth mental health and serious mental illness are at crisis levels. At least 8 in 10 parents are worried about depression, alcohol or substances or anxiety impacting teens. Adults 18-29 report the most mental health concerns and are more likely to report they are seeking services but not always able to access them. Half of adults say they or a family member have experienced a severe mental health crisis (including an overdose requiring an emergency room visit). Of those, 4 in 10 say it had a major impact on their own mental health or their family’s relationship, and 1 in 5 say it had a major impact on the family’s financial situation. One month following the launch of the 988 mental health crisis line, over half of adults say they have not heard about it. When told about it, 85% say they would be likely to call if they or a loved one experienced a mental health crisis.

    Source: KFF/CNN Mental Health In America Survey (Kaiser Family Foundation)

    Rainbow fentanyl is not a Halloween threat

    With Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) warnings about “rainbow fentanyl” that looks like candy, fears about rainbow fentanyl and Halloween went viral. However, the DEA said they have not seen any connection to Halloween, and experts say there is no new fentanyl threat this Halloween. Many experts also do not believe cartels and dealers have launched any new campaign targeting children, as suggested by the DEA’s warning. Traffickers have long used bright colors for reasons that have nothing to do with children, such as to distinguish their product from others. Experts also questioned whether traffickers, who are driven by profit, would focus on kids. Selling fentanyl deliberately to children would be incredibly risky, as there are severe legal penalties, and bad for business, as children typically lack access to the kind of cash that makes for good repeat customers.

    Source: Is ‘rainbow fentanyl’ a threat to your kids this Halloween? Experts say no (NPR)

    Advocate for Change

    October marks the anniversary of the Parity Act. Despite 14 years of this law, implementation and enforcement remains lacking, leading to continuing discriminatory and inadequate insurance coverage for addiction services.

    Send a letter to your members of Congress urging them to support legislation to strengthen parity enforcement before the end of the year.

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