Surgeon General Vivek Murthy issued an advisory calling for swift action to respond to a growing mental health crisis among youth, worsened by the pandemic. The Surgeon General’s Advisory on Protecting Youth Mental Health provides recommendations for individuals, families, community organizations, technology companies, governments and others to improve the mental health of children, adolescents and young adults. Among the recommendations are calls to expand access to behavioral and mental health care services for children, including through telehealth. The advisory also calls for expanding the school-based mental health workforce, as well as addressing surrounding social media.
Source: Surgeon General Advisory Raises Alarm on Youth Mental Health (U.S. News & World Report)
The Office of National Drug Control Policy released a model law for states to help expand access to syringe services programs (SSPs), the Model Syringe Services Program Act. The model law provides a template of suggested legislative provisions that can be enacted in states to expand access to SSPs. It would authorize the establishment of comprehensive SSPs within states; delineate the required components for SSPs, including providing expanded services including substance use disorder treatment, either directly or through referral; reduce needlestick injuries to law enforcement, emergency services personnel, sanitation workers and members of the community; provide data collection and reporting requirements for SSPs; provide immunity from criminal arrest, charge and prosecution for the possession, distribution or furnishing of hypodermic needles and syringes and other supplies; provide education and training materials for members of the community, including law enforcement and first responders; and provide a mechanism for funding SSPs.
Source: White House Releases Model Law to Help States Ensure Access to “Safe, Effective, and Cost-saving” Syringe Services Programs (White House Office of National Drug Control Policy)
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) is now accepting applications for the first-ever SAMHSA Harm Reduction grant program and expects to issue $30 million in awards. The funding, authorized by the American Rescue Plan, will help increase access to community harm reduction services and support harm reduction service providers. SAMHSA will accept applications from state, local, tribal and territorial governments, tribal organizations, non-profit community-based organizations and primary and behavioral health organizations. The funding will allow organizations to expand community-based overdose prevention programs including by distributing overdose reversal medications and fentanyl test strips, providing overdose education and counseling and managing or expanding syringe services programs.
Source: SAMHSA Announces Unprecedented $30 Million Harm Reduction Grant Funding Opportunity to Help Address the Nation’s Substance Use and Overdose Epidemic (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration)
Representative Donald Norcross of New Jersey announced the introduction of the Opioid Treatment Access Act. The measure would improve access to and modernize the process of receiving treatment for opioid use disorder by allowing certain prescribers to prescribe up to one-month take-home doses of methadone to be dispensed at a pharmacy and allowing states to permit aspects of that care to be conducted via telehealth. It would also shorten the timeline for take-home methadone; direct the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to conduct a study on the impact of the COVID-19 methadone exemptions; codify regulations that allow opioid treatment programs (OTPs) to operate mobile medication components without separate registration; and emphasize that states should align their regulation of OTPs in a way that is consistent with the intent of this legislation and that breaks down barriers to care. Companion legislation will be introduced by Senator Edward Markey of Massachusetts.
Source: Rep. Norcross Announces Bill to Increase Access to and Modernize Opioid Use Disorder Treatment (U.S. Congressman Donald Norcross)
Congress passed, and President Biden signed into law, a continuing resolution to avert a government shutdown. The stopgap spending bill includes a provision that will extend the temporary classwide scheduling of fentanyl-related substances until February 18. The House Energy & Commerce Committee held a hearing last week with witnesses from the Office of National Drug Control Policy, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Food and Drug Administration and the National Institute on Drug Abuse to discuss the administration’s recommendation for permanently scheduling the substances.
Representatives Raja Krishnamoorthi and Michael Cloud, Chairman and Ranking Member of the House Oversight Committee Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy, sent a letter to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requesting information about the agency’s progress in reviewing the premarket tobacco product applications from e-cigarette manufacturers. They request that the FDA provide progress-report timelines for each of the outstanding applications (four of the five major manufacturers), showing which steps have been completed and when.
Source: Chairman Krishnamoorthi, Ranking Member Cloud Send Bipartisan Letter to FDA Seeking Information on E-Cigarette Approvals (House Committee on Oversight and Reform)
The Department of Labor announced the award of $800,000 to the Washington State Department of Employment Security to support job creation and workforce training services in five counties that have suffered significant social and economic impacts from widespread opioid use, addiction and overdose. Opioid Disaster Recovery Dislocated Worker Grants create temporary jobs in peer recovery positions and provide services to reintegrate workers affected by the opioid crisis back into the workforce.
The South Dakota Supreme Court upheld a lower court’s ruling that nullified a voter-passed amendment to the state constitution that would have legalized recreational marijuana. The Supreme Court ruled that the measure would have violated the state’s requirement that constitutional amendments deal with just one subject. About 54% of voters approved the measure last November, but two law enforcement officers sued, with Governor Kristi Noem’s backing. Marijuana advocates are now trying to bring recreational marijuana back to voters next year through a ballot measure that would instruct the legislature to legalize it. Lawmakers are also considering legalization in the upcoming legislative session.
While Colorado and Washington were the first states to legalize adult-use cannabis in 2012, it wasn’t until 2019 that Alaska first adopted a law on cannabis consumption lounges. Other states have since followed suit. However, the lounges are still few and far between in Alaska due to high costs of compliance and local restrictions. Onerous regulations have prevented spread throughout California and Colorado, but lawmakers have enacted legal changes that will make it easier to open the cafes. In more mature cannabis markets, introducing new licenses for consumption lounges is seen as a way to bolster social equity when the market is already saturated with dispensaries. No major U.S. city in a state with legalized marijuana has yet emerged as an Amsterdam-like destination where consumers can freely use in ubiquitous cannabis cafes. With Nevada’s recent approval, Las Vegas could fill that void.
Source: Weed lounges are coming to a city near you (Politico)
Maia Szalavitz explains how the response to the addiction crisis must recognize that opioids mimic the neurotransmitters that are responsible for making social connection comforting. She argues that we cannot arrest our way out of a problem caused by the human need to connect. Policymakers, she writes, must recognize factors that make opioids attractive in times like the pandemic (including loneliness, physical and social isolation and uncertainty) in order to effectively treat and prevent addiction. She states that the link between opioids and feelings of love and connection also offers clues as to who is most vulnerable (such as people who experienced childhood trauma, those with mental illness or developmental disorders and those with low or falling socioeconomic status). Instead of punishment, she concludes, people with addiction need the chance to learn healthier ways of coping, which may include medications, therapy, stable housing, meaningful work and new friends.
Source: Opioids Feel Like Love. That’s Why They’re Deadly in Tough Times. (New York Times)