Brain Awareness and the Opioid Crisis
In May, NBCC celebrated Mental Health Awareness Month by joining with the KPM Group DC for Brain Health Awareness Week and a series of engaging panel discussions and briefings from leaders in the behavioral health and substance use disorder (SUD) space. Policy, industry, and behavioral health and SUD advocates came together to share updates and ideas on ways to advance our shared work to identify, understand, and overcome challenges that limit advancements in brain health. The group addressed issues such as access to care, stigma, co-occurring diagnoses, and culturally competent care.
A key topic was the opioid epidemic and how it continues to ravage the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 1 in 14 Americans is suffering from some form of addiction to legal or illegal substances. In May,TheWashington Post reported that the United States surpassed the 2021 record of 100,000 overdose deaths, bringing the overall tally to 1 million lives lost during the 21st century. Meeting attendees agree the overarching stigma associated with drug use and abuse encourages a punitive instead of a resource-oriented approach that perpetuates the opioid epidemic. ABC News recently reported on the fentanyl crisis and an overdose prevention clinic in Harlem aimed at harm reduction. Harm reduction programs are taking place in several states as one way to combat the epidemic.
In addition, some states are working toward reducing barriers to care. Virginia Senator John J. Bell, a speaker at the Brain Health Awareness Week, cited the need for programs like New Hampshire’s Safe Stations Project. This program has seen success with fire stations providing a place to receive immediate medical evaluations and connect to treatment specialists. In addition, the Biden Administration recently proposed a historic drug control strategy. Included is a plan to expand medication for opioid use disorder (MOUD) throughout federal carceral settings.
Several states are taking aim to tackle drug overdoses and deaths.
Read an opinion piece on why MOUD mandates should be adopted by the state of Tennessee and local jurisdictions. MOUD (such as methadone and buprenorphine) and comprehensive substance use counseling increase rates of recovery from opioid use disorder and reduce relapse, overdose and recidivism rates in the carceral system.
The state of Missouri has launched a public dashboard to track the increasing number of drug overdose deaths, which have become the leading cause of death among Missouri adults ages 18–44, state health officials say. More than 70% of the deaths involve opioids such as heroin and fentanyl. Read more here.
Though supporters tout the benefits of so-called overdose prevention centers as a tool to combat opioid deaths, they remain a political flashpoint. A recent Politico article discusses a government-approved drug use method that could become a national model.
Colorado passed a bill designed to confront the fentanyl crisis by giving prosecutors more room to pursue felony convictions while providing substantial support and treatment services. Read more here.