Key reads

White House hosts Youth Substance Use Prevention Summit and urges schools to carry naloxone

The Biden administration sent a letter urging all schools to keep naloxone on hand and train staff and students on how to use it. The letter from the Department of Education and the Office of National Drug Control Policy will be sent to every state education agency, intergovernmental groups and local, state and national education associations. The White House also held a bipartisan summit with youth leaders, community-based coalitions and federal partners on efforts to prevent youth substance use and ensure local communities have the resources and tools they need to keep young people healthy, safe and thriving. Federal officials joined youth leaders and community-based coalitions from across the country to discuss the critical importance of raising awareness on the dangers of illicit substances like fentanyl, increasing education on issues related to substance use, decreasing stigma around mental health and substance use disorder and strengthening the safety of communities. The White House issued Blue Ribbon Awards to 15 Drug-Free Communities Coalitions for their work to prevent youth substance use.

Source: Exclusive: White House urges schools to carry overdose reversal drug (Axios); To Advance President Biden’s Unity Agenda Strategy, White House to Host Bipartisan Youth Substance Use Prevention Summit and Award Outstanding Local Community Prevention Efforts (Office of National Drug Control Policy)

State AGs use opioid settlements to score points in gubernatorial races

Opioid settlement cash has turned into a political issue, with gubernatorial candidates in several states clashing over who gets bragging rights for the funds. Candidates include attorneys general who pursued the lawsuits that produced the payouts. Scoring money for your constituency almost always plays well and doesn’t risk alienating anyone. Voters likely do not know that the settlements are national deals crafted by a coalition of attorneys general and private lawyers, so when a candidate claims credit, their constituents may believe they are the sole hero. Attorneys general in states including Kentucky, North Carolina, West Virginia and Louisiana are running for governor and touting their settlement credentials. For some advocates, the injection of politics raises concerns about how the dollars are being spent, who is making the decisions and whether the money will truly address the public health crisis. Mixing politics with settlement funds could result in ineffective investments, and some worry that candidates and voters may forget about the significance of the money once ballots are cast.

Source: Gubernatorial Candidates Quarrel Over Glory for Winning Opioid Settlements (KFF Health News)

Federal news

HHS issues call to action for adolescent health

The Department of Health and Human Services issued Take Action for Adolescents: A Call to Action for Adolescent Health and Well-Being, an effort to promote collaboration and spur action to improve the health and well-being of adolescents across the U.S. It outlines a vision, key principles, goals and a set of initial action steps. It is research-based and was developed with input from adult and youth partners, including nationally recognized adolescent health experts. It is accompanied by a toolkit with tips and resources to spur collaboration in states and communities. The goals are: eliminate disparities to advance health equity; increase youth agency and engagement; ensure access to safe and supportive environments; increase coordination and collaboration within and across systems; expand access to health care and human services; strengthen training and support for caring adults; improve health information and health literacy; and support, translate and disseminate research.

Source: HHS Issues Take Action for Adolescents: A Call to Action for Adolescent Health and Well-Being (Department of Health and Human Services)

Surgeon General launches "We Are Made to Connect" college tour

Surgeon General Murthy is launching the national “We Are Made to Connect” tour to address the challenges that loneliness, social isolation and mental health pose to college-aged Americans. Murthy will travel to colleges across the country to inspire people to incorporate moments of connection into their daily lives to improve their health and wellbeing. Murthy will issue a 5-for-5 Connection Challenge to students, challenging them to take five actions for five days that express gratitude, offer support or ask for help from people in their lives. Murthy kicked off the tour at Duke University, where he was in conversation with Duke men’s basketball coach Jon Scheyer and associate professor of American religious history Kate Bowler. Other stops include University of Virginia, University of Washington, University of Texas at Austin, Arizona State University, New York City students, Drexel University and Hampton University. The tour will feature the Acknowledge, Support, and Keep-InTouch (ASK) multimedia campaign, which provides a framework for peer support and promotes conversation.

Source: Surgeon General Launches Nationwide “We Are Made to Connect” College Tour to Inspire Students to Build, Strengthen, and Prioritize Relationships (Department of Health and Human Services)

Medicare's expanded mental health coverage will begin in January

For decades, Medicare has covered only mental health services provided by psychiatrists, psychologists, licensed clinical social workers and psychiatric nurses. However, many do not participate in Medicare, citing low payments and bureaucratic hassles. Beginning in January, Medicare for the first time will allow marriage and family therapists (MFTs) and mental health counselors (MHCs) to provide services. Medicare is also adding up to 19 hours a week of intensive outpatient care as a benefit, improving navigation and peer services for serious mental illness and expanding mobile crisis services. Since the pandemic, Medicare has allowed telehealth services, with requirements for in-person appointments waived, but some flexibilities are set to expire at the end of the year. Several questions remain as Medicare enacts these changes, including whether payment rates for MHCs and MFTs will be high enough that they accept Medicare patients, whether Medicare Advantage plans will add MFTs, MHCs and substance use disorder specialists to their networks, whether federal regulators will do more to guarantee that Medicare Advantage plans provide adequate access to services and whether legislation proposing parity for Medicare will advance.

Source: Medicare expands options for mental health care (The Washington Post)

New Speaker of the House has a conservative health record

Newly elected House Speaker Mike Johnson has not been a major player on health care issues, but he has supported staunchly conservative health policies. In 2019, the Republican Study Committee he chaired pitched a health care plan that would have scrapped many of the Affordable Care Act’s protections for preexisting conditions, limited Medicaid spending through per-capita caps, ended the enhanced funding for Medicaid expansion and undone the Essential Health Benefits requirement. There is no reason to believe Johnson would push to implement the plan any time soon, but it may be a helpful barometer for where he stands, and Democrats are likely to point to it as they seek to retake control of the House. Johnson has voted against every major piece of cannabis legislation, including the bipartisan SAFE Banking Act and a bill to expand medical marijuana research that President Biden signed into law earlier this year. Johnson has proposed a floor vote on the Labor/HHS and Agriculture-FDA appropriations bills the week of November 13. He hopes to have by the end of November a “legislative blueprint through the end of the 118th Congress.” In health care, that could include addressing expired programs, including the SUPPORT Act.

Source: New speaker’s health record (Axios); Republicans like Mike (STAT); Three things to know about the House’s new speaker (The Washington Post); Checking Mike Johnson’s vitals (Politico); The 15-issue policy cheat sheet about the new House speaker (Politico)

State and local news

New York has allocated all first-year opioid settlement funds

New York Governor Hochul announced that the state has made available all the funding provided in the first year of the opioid settlement agreements. The $192.8 million is supporting regional abatements for local governments, a scholarship program to support individuals looking to enter or advance in the addiction services workforce, Transitional Safety Units that provide funding for providers operating supportive housing, and funding for recovery centers to reach individuals in recovery with nonclinical support and recovery information. It is also supporting Comprehensive Integrated Outpatient Treatment Programs to provide medications for addiction treatment and other comprehensive health services in one location; low-threshold buprenorphine services; prevention coalitions and programming/education targeted towards youth; the Connections to Care initiative to help underserved and high-need individuals access addiction care; and a transportation program providing access to destinations supporting individualized recovery efforts. In addition, it is supporting outreach and engagement efforts that connect high-need individuals to harm reduction and treatment services, services for people who use substances in priority populations to support harm reduction strategies and low-threshold medical services and expansion of services offered within the State’s Syringe Service Programs/Drug User Health Hubs and harm reduction supplies.

Source: Governor Hochul Announces All $192 Million in First-Year Opioid Settlement Funds Allocated to Serve New Yorkers Struggling With Addiction or Available Through State Agencies (Governor Kathy Hochul)

Oregon is working to expand recovery high schools

This year, the Oregon legislature approved state funding for a total of nine nonresidential public recovery high schools by 2029. The first in Multnomah County, Rivercrest, opened last month. Oregon’s first recovery high school, Harmony Academy, opened in 2019. It is a state-chartered public school, so any student in Oregon can attend without approval or payment from their local district. Rivercrest is run by the Multnomah Education Service District and is available to students in the county if their school district approves and covers the cost. Portland Public Schools (PPS) will only pay for 10 students to attend Rivercrest. The school has 12 students enrolled but capacity for up to 30 with current staff. However, PPS budgeted to cover 10 spots this year. PPS advises other students in need of recovery high school to go to Harmony, and the district pays for transportation for up to 16 students. By next fall, Rivercrest hopes to be funded directly from state educational coffers, eliminating the need for districts to pay for individual slots.

Source: How these Oregon high schools aim to help teens recover from drug addiction (Axios)

Camden County launches virtual reality naloxone training

Camden County, New Jersey unveiled a virtual reality naloxone training. The Camden County Prosecutor’s Office enlisted the University of Pennsylvania to create a locally tailored training video on Narcan administration, using virtual reality to create an immersive viewing experience. The nine-minute video was supported by funding from the 2022 Overdose Data to Action Operation Helping Hand grant. The training video will be used for a fast and easy alternative to support the naloxone training in schools for students, staff and administrators, bus drivers and other entities that carry naloxone.

Source: Commissioners Premiere Virtual Reality Naloxone Training in Collaboration with Univ of Penn School of Nursing and the Annenberg School of Communication (Camden County)

DC opens first stabilization center

Washington, D.C.’s first stabilization center for individuals experiencing substance use disorder opened this week. The center will provide emergency crisis intervention care, typically lasting 24-72 hours, and services will be provided to those who are 18+, free of charge with no insurance or residency requirements. The center offers patients a safe and comfortable space to undergo stabilization. Upon arrival, patients will receive a comprehensive medical and psychosocial evaluation, as well as an individualized treatment plan. The center offers buprenorphine on the spot. Patients will receive on-site multidisciplinary support from a team of nurse practitioners, registered nurses, peer specialists, recovery coaches and patient care technicians. Patients will be closely monitored by medical professionals and staff, including medical screenings and observations. Before patients are discharged, they will be connected to ongoing substance use disorder treatment at one of 29 certified provider locations available across the city. Staff will link patients to resources such as housing supports, help with filling out paperwork, reinstating insurance and other ways to sustain health after discharge.

Source: Mayor Bowser Cuts the Ribbon on the District’s First Stabilization Center (DC Department of Behavioral Health)

NYC announces plan to extend life expectancy, including by reducing overdose and suicide deaths

New York City Mayor Adams and Health Commissioner Vasan unveiled HealthyNYC, a plan to improve and extend the average lifespan of New Yorkers. The campaign aims to address the greatest drivers of premature death, including chronic and diet-related diseases, screenable cancers, overdose, suicide, maternal mortality, violence and COVID. The campaign aims to extend the average life expectancy of New Yorkers to 83 years by 2030, with gains across racial/ethnic groups. Goals include reducing overdose deaths by 25%, suicide deaths by 10% and pregnancy-associated mortality among Black women by 10% by 2030. The city will increase access to naloxone, proven harm reduction and treatment and recovery centers to reduce overdose deaths; expand access to culturally responsive mental health care and social support services, including early intervention for communities of color and LGBTQIA+ youth, and address the impact of social media on youth mental health and suicidal ideation to reduce suicide deaths; and increase new families’ access to quality health care and social support to reduce pregnancy-associated mortality among Black women.

Source: Mayor Adams, Health Commissioner Dr. Vasan Launch Ambitious Whole-of-Government Campaign To Extend Lifespan Of All New Yorkers (NYC Office of the Mayor)