By Brian Skinner, Esq.
The Washington Post reported on Wednesday that more than 200 drug and health-focused groups are urging the incoming Biden administration to address opioid abuse and end the drug war. The letter calls on the incoming administration to take bold, decisive, evidence-based action that shifts the government’s response to substance use. The The signatories urge an abandonment of criminalization as a means to address substance use, and instead ensure universal access to equitable evidence-based solutions rooted in racial and economic justice, and compassion.
“Like the President-elect, we too have experienced the insurmountable grief brought on by the loss of family members,” the letter says. "It is our strong hope and belief that ending the drug war that has inflicted incredible harm in communities across this nation, and centering evidence-based solutions to address the overdose crisis, could be a great catalyst for a national transformation.”
The letter makes several recommendations for the first 100 days of the new administration including permanently extending the SAMHSA/DEA COVID-19 accommodations for methadone and buprenorphine access (the gold standard for opioid use disorder treatment), including the option of audio-only for buprenorphine induction and consultation for people in rural or low-income circumstances without access to video-based technology, and granting 14-28 days of take-home methadone.
Other recommendations for the first 100 days include re-orienting the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) as a beacon for evidence-based drug policies grounded in science and public health by committing the Office to dismantling the drug war, advancing a national drug budget that prioritizes harm reduction, treatment and recovery and deprioritizes enforcement and supply side strategies that only perpetuate mass incarceration, systemic racism and the failed drug war.
The letter also urges that the Department of Justice (DOJ) be directed to withdraw litigation challenging the operation of overdose prevention centers (OPCs), also known as supervised consumption facilities, refrain from filing new lawsuits against or from prosecuting organizations that operate OPCs, and work with Congress to revise federal laws to permit the operation of OPCs.
The letter additionally requests that the Biden Administration support legislation currently before Congress:
- The Mainstreaming Addiction Treatment (MAT) Act which eliminates the redundant and outdated requirement that practitioners apply for a separate waiver (X Waiver) through the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to prescribe buprenorphine for the treatment of substance use disorder. (H.R. 2482 | S. 2074)
- The Reducing Barriers to Substance Use Treatment Act which prohibits state Medicaid programs from requiring prior authorization for medication-assisted treatment (H.R. 3925)
- The Comprehensive Addiction Resources Emergency (CARE) Act which invests heavily in the overdose crisis and brings people directly impacted by the crisis to help decide where resources would be best targeted locally. Modeled on the Ryan White CARE Act, the CARE Act establishes a new blueprint for addressing the devastating effects of the overdose crisis. (H.R. 2569 | S. 1365)
Led by People's Action, VOCAL-NY, the Drug Policy Alliance and the National Harm Reduction Coalition, the letter was sent to Rahul Gupta, team lead for the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) on Biden’s transition team.
Brian is the former counsel to the West Virginia House of Delegates Judiciary Committee and counsel to the West Virginia Senate Minority Caucus. He was also general counsel to the West Virginia State Health Officer and Commissioner for the Bureau for Public Health. He has almost two-decades of experience as a strategic advisor and chief legal counsel to both executive and legislative branch public officials.