Ryan Hampton, Opinion contributor, USA TODAY Published December 31st, 2020
As a result, experts have called for more resources and heightened intervention to reduce substance use disorders since early in the pandemic. With little action from federal and state governments over the past 10 months, however, we are starting to see alarming trends.
This month, the American Medical Association noted that more than 40 states have reported increases in opioid-related deaths. In my home state of Nevada, we saw a 50% increase in opioid and fentanyl-involved drug overdose deaths in the first six months of the year. A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report published in August found respondents were more likely to start or increase substance use to cope with COVID-19 stress and emotions, including 24.7% of essential workers.
This much is clear: To prevent further loss of life, COVID-19 recovery efforts must include mental health treatment and substance use recovery — and advocates from the recovery community need a seat at the table.
There’s a rallying cry in the recovery community: “Nothing about us, without us.” This means that the people directly affected by conditions like substance use disorder should be involved at the state and federal levels in developing policies.
We may not all have doctorates, but we’re certainly experts in our conditions. To that end, President-elect Biden must ensure that people in recovery are represented in his administration, ensuring that any policy solutions around drug use and addiction are informed by the experiences of people who have lived with that reality.
Support peer recovery effortsIn the recent COVID relief package, a late revision by the Senate wiped out a critical component from the original proposal — $75 million for peer recovery support services. These essential services provide a lifeline to Americans who fall through gaps in addiction treatment.
Peer recovery support provides non-clinical services that educate and support individuals as they make changes necessary for recovery from substance use disorder. This is a striking example of why voices with personal experience must have substantial weight in decision-making within this new administration: to avoid catastrophic policy blind spots that could lead to increased overdoses.
Lost in the flurry of Biden’s recent high-level nominations are key roles that will guide the nation’s response to our worsening addiction and mental health crisis. The Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Use and directors at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration will have a strong influence on how treatment is provided.
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