Since taking office in January, members of the Office of National Drug Control Policy have quickly gotten to work on setting an agenda to address the nation’s substance use crisis. In a presentation to Rx Drug Abuse & Heroin Summit attendees on Wednesday, ONDCP acting director Regina LaBelle outlined the seven priorities the administration announced last week that it will carry out over its first year.
“The majority of people with a substance use disorder are not in treatment, but that doesn’t mean we give up on them,” LaBelle said. “It doesn’t mean we should only offer care when they show up at a clinic or treatment center or present in an emergency department. Instead, it really means we need to meet people where they are.”
Here are the seven areas that will be among the administration’s top priorities in 2021:
- Expand access to evidence-based treatment and recovery support services. This includes removing barriers to buprenorphine prescribing, modernizing methadone treatment, and expanding access to all evidence-based treatment options for incarcerated individuals, LaBelle said.
- Confront racial equity issues. From inequitable access to healthcare that leads to health disparities and worse outcomes for people of color to inequitable treatment in the criminal justice system that has led to people of color being incarcerated at higher rates for non-violent drug crimes, ONDCP will target unmet needs in diverse communities, developing priorities for criminal justice reform, and developing culturally appropriate, evidence-based practices, LaBelle said.
- Enhance evidence-based harm reduction. Specific measures include ensuring that people can access syringe services, naloxone and fentanyl test strips. LaBelle said the Biden administration will also identify state laws that may limit access to these resources.
- Support evidence-based prevention efforts. ONDCP will be reviewing prevention programs that receive federal grant funding to ensure they are effective. LaBelle also advocated for more opportunities for young people to be screened for risk factors for SUD.
- Reduce the supply of illicit substances. Most drugs in the U.S. are produced outside of country, LaBelle said. She advocated for strengthening the government’s ability to disrupt the manufacture, marketing, sale and shipment of drugs, and also working with other countries on these initiatives.
- Advance recovery-ready workplaces and expand the addiction workforce. ONDCP aims to reduce barriers to employment for people in recovery and also grow the addiction treatment workforce, LaBelle said.
- Expand access to recovery support services. This will be accomplished by working with federal partners and recovery housing stakeholders to develop sustainable protocols for recovery housing, including certification, payment models, evidence-based practices and technical assistance, LaBelle said.
LaBelle also noted that persons in recovery will have a significant voice in the process of crafting and executing policies.
“ONDCP is committed to engaging people with lived experience in the development of all of our policies,” she said. “People in recovery will always have a seat at our table.”
Coast Guard, partners target maritime trafficking
Also in the Wednesday morning session, a presentation from Admiral Charles Ray, vice commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, highlighted efforts between the Coast Guard and its partner law enforcement organizations to crack down on maritime trafficking of cocaine and other illegal drugs.
Over the past 5 years, the Coast Guard has interdicted 2.4 million pounds of illicit substances at sea, capturing drug shipments in bulk before they can be broken down into smaller packages that are more easily concealed and transported on land, Ray said.
The Coast Guard and its partners seize about four times the amount of cocaine compared to all other law enforcement agencies combined, he said. In the past fiscal year, 380,000 pounds of drugs were seized at sea, cutting off an estimated $5.4 billion in profits for transnational criminal organizations.
Still, the Coast Guard estimates that it interdicts just 15% of maritime trafficked cocaine overall, Ray said, and solving the drug crisis in the U.S. is an all-hands-on-deck challenge.
“We cannot interdict our way out of this,” he said. “The solution has to be interdiction and demand reduction combined. While we work together…rest assured, your Coast Guard will continue to do our part to reduce drug flow and the misery, tragedy and heartache these drugs bring to our nation.
“From the bottom of my heart, I thank each of you for working toward this common goal, whether that be interdicting illicit drugs, helping those in need, influencing and writing policy to protect our communities, or educating our fellow Americans about making good choices when it comes to drugs, we are all in the fight together.”