According to new preliminary CDC data, more than 87,000 Americans died of substance use overdoses in the 12-month period ending in September 2020, a 29% increase over the prior year. The surge represents an increasingly urgent crisis that has drawn less attention and fewer resources while the nation has battled COVID, though the Biden administration has taken several steps so far to start addressing the crisis. Increases in HIV cases have also been reported in several areas of the country with heavy injection drug use.
Source: Overdose Deaths Have Surged During the Pandemic, C.D.C Data Shows (New York Times)
Reps. Trone, Kuster, Fitzpatrick and Herrera Beutler, co-chairs of the Bipartisan Addiction and Mental Health Task Force, introduced the Honoring National Recovery Month Act (summary) to provide $1 million annually for SAMHSA to develop materials, distribute best practices and lead activities related to Recovery Month. Sens. Lujan and Sullivan introduced a companion bill in the Senate.
Source: Trone Introduces Legislation to Support National Recovery Month Efforts (Congressman David Trone)
Biden’s FY 2022 budget blueprint calls for $10.7 billion in discretionary spending to address the opioid crisis, an increase of $3.9 billion over the 2021 enacted level. The funding would support research, prevention, treatment and recovery support services, with targeted investments to support populations such as Native Americans, older Americans and rural populations. It includes funding for states and tribes, MAT, research, and expanding the behavioral health provider workforce. The budget would support efforts in the criminal justice system to advance the provision of high-quality SUD treatment, reentry services and recidivism reduction programming, as well as drug courts and alternative court programs.
Source: The President’s FY 2022 Discretionary Request (White House Office of Management and Budget)
The House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Health held a hearing yesterday on 11 substance use-related bills, including ones that aim to increase the number of providers prescribing buprenorphine, require health care providers to receive education on addiction, reinstate Medicaid coverage for inmates 30 days prior to release to make it easier for them to access SUD treatment, and address the rising methamphetamine and fentanyl crises. Acting ONDCP Director Regina LaBelle highlighted the administration’s drug policy priorities released earlier this month, discussing efforts to increase access to evidence-based prevention, treatment, recovery, and harm reduction services and increase racial equity. Others focused on how to address the expiration of the temporary scheduling of fentanyl analogues happening on May 6, with the administration calling for a short extension while they review a recent GAO report and work to address concerns surrounding research limitations and mandatory minimums.
Source: Hearing on “An Epidemic Within A Pandemic: Understanding Substance Use and Misuse in America” (House Committee on Energy & Commerce)
CDC and SAMHSA announced that federal funding may now be used to purchase rapid fentanyl test strips in an effort to curb the spike in overdose deaths largely driven by synthetic opioids. Test strips can be used to determine if substances have been mixed or cut with fentanyl, providing people who use drugs and communities with important information so they can take steps to reduce overdose risk.
Source: Federal Grantees May Now Use Funds to Purchase Fentanyl Test Strips (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration)
Reps. McKinley and Kaptur introduced the Opioid Settlement Accountability Act (H.R. 2448) to ensure funds that states receive from opioid settlements go toward opioid treatment, prevention, education, and enforcement. This includes using funds to support treatment and health care services for opioid treatment programs; for education related to opioid use disorder; to implement prevention strategies including educating providers about non-opioid pain management; to train health care professionals on best practices for pain management; to support state and federal law enforcement actions and first responder equipment related to the illegal distribution of opioids; and for other public health-related activities and social services, including housing, employment, child wellbeing, criminal justice, and emergency management.
Source: McKinley Introduces Bipartisan Legislation to Ensure Opioid Settlement Funds Are Not Wasted (David B. McKinley)
The West Virginia legislature approved a bill to regulate needle exchange programs, and the governor supports it. It would require licenses for syringe collection and distribution programs, which would have to offer an array of health outreach services, including overdose prevention education and treatment referrals. Opponents say the stringent measures would force programs to close, while supporters say it would help people get connected to care. The legislation would require participants to show ID to get a syringe and would give local governments authority to bar certain groups from setting up programs. It would also require syringes to be marked with the program passing them out to determine whether exchanges lead to litter. The rules would take effect amid one of the nation’s highest spikes in HIV cases related to intravenous drug use, a surge due at least in part to the cancellation of a needle exchange program in 2018.
Source: West Virginia lawmakers approve needle exchange regulations (Associated Press)
New Mexico Gov. Lujan Grisham signed legislation legalizing recreational marijuana, which was passed by the state legislature last week. People 21+ will be allowed to start growing marijuana at home and possess up to two ounces outside their homes starting June 29. Recreational sales start next year by April 1 at state-licensed dispensaries.
Source: New Mexico governor signs bill to legalize recreational pot (Associated Press)
There is a growing push to divert 911 calls related to mental health and substance use to trained, non-police responders. For many years, police departments have tried to scale up crisis intervention training and implement “co-responder models” that pair mental health professionals with police officers, but the movement toward non-police, civilian emergency response has been gaining traction recently. The CAHOOTS program in Eugene, OR, is a model that has inspired similar programs in Olympia and Denver, as well as pilot programs in Austin, San Francisco, Albuquerque, Portland, OR, and Rochester. Other cities such as Chicago, New York City, Los Angeles, Baltimore, Oakland, Dayton, and Charlotte, NC, are also working to launch similar models.
Scott Hadland, an addiction specialist at Boston Medical Center, explains that George Floyd’s substance use should not muddy the facts of the Derek Chauvin trial. Chauvin’s actions reflect not only the dehumanization of Black people in America, but also the devaluing of people who use substances. Hadland points out that people seeking to vindicate Chauvin quickly seized on the fact that Floyd had fentanyl in his system at the time of death, suggesting that Floyd died of an overdose and that people who use substances “deserve” what happens to them, as addiction is a “moral failing.” Rather, he argues, Floyd’s addiction was a chronic medical condition: He sought treatment, but the quality of treatment is abysmally poor, and people of color are disproportionately shunted to prisons rather than treatment.