In the Rosenthal Report for October, we look at:
- How the federal government can help states fight the opioid epidemic, following the failure to repeal ACA and cut Medicaid
- Mapping technology to pinpoint drug treatment gaps on Staten Island
- The impact of involuntary commitment in New Hampshire and neighboring Massachusetts
- The barrage of lawsuits against opioid makers
Provide emergency federal funding to the states for drug addiction programs
The failure by Congress to repeal the Affordable Care Act ensures, for now, that millions of Americans will continue to receive drug addiction treatment (Medicaid pays for about one-fifth of all substance abuse services). But there’s much more to be done to help the states implement robust anti-opioid prevention and drug treatment programs. Among the states with programs underway is New Jersey, which announced a comprehensive $200 million plan that supports Medicaid-based recovery programs and peer coaching for recovering addicts. Yet many financially strapped statehouses need more money. The federal government could kick in $940 million by providing an emergency 50 percent increase in block grants (New York State, for instance, would get $54 million). This would prime the funding pipeline for state programs, while we develop longer-term nationwide strategies and funding resources.
Mapping technology helps pinpoint gaps in addiction treatment
Why does the borough of Staten Island have the highest rate of drug overdose deaths in New York City? One factor, according to a new report by Columbia University and the Staten Island district attorney’s office, is that there are few treatment facilities available where the most drug overdoses occur. To reach this conclusion, researchers used mapping technology to match overdoses by ZIP code and treatment centers, a model that could be replicated in other locations to identify where treatment is most needed. The report, initiated by Bridget G. Brennan, the city’s special narcotics prosecutor, recommended expanding treatment options over law enforcement approaches, but mentioned only medically assisted treatment and the use of opioid withdrawal drugs like buprenorphine. This is only a first step to recovery, which must include behavioral therapy, and for those need it, long-term residential treatment for the best chance of success.
A tale of two states: how involuntary commitment policies can save lives
New Hampshire does not allow involuntary commitment, which places drug addicts into treatment. But across the state line, Massachusetts does. A recent report by NPR New Hampshire highlighted the stark outcomes of this policy. It described the death of a young man in New Hampshire from a fentanyl overdose as his parents sought treatment for him; meanwhile, in nearby Massachusetts a young woman was able to enter treatment under pressure from her parents and a drug court, and is now in recovery. These stories support the conviction of the Rosenthal Center that mandatory treatment is at least as successful as voluntary.
Those with drug-use problems don’t usually volunteer for treatment, and require suasion from family members or an employer and the enforcement of the court system. Last year, New Hampshire’s legislature shelved a proposal to change the law on involuntary treatment, undermining efforts to bring that state’s high opioid overdose death rate under control.
Opioid makers face barrage of legal actions
Lawsuits against the drug industry for its role in the opioid epidemic are piling up - and there may be more to come. Dozens of suits have already been brought by cities, counties and states to recoup costs incurred from the surge of drug overdose deaths linked to opioids. In the latest move, the attorney generals of 41 U.S. states said they are investigating pharmaceutical firms to see whether deception was involved in marketing opioids to doctors and patients. The legal strategy is similar to the one used in successful litigation against tobacco companies, which brought a $246 billion settlement in 1998 from cigarette manufacturers. The Rosenthal Center supports legal efforts that may secure money for drug addiction services, but recognizes that lawsuits alone are not the solution to this complex public health problem.
SAM (Smart Approaches to Marijuana): New report on the link between marijuana and opioid
Some preliminary studies have suggested that the use of medical marijuana in states where it is legal may reduce opioid use. But a new report published in the American Journal of Psychiatry found that cannabis use increased the risk of developing nonmedical prescription opioid use as well as opioid use disorder. Based on a survey of 30,000 Americans, the study demonstrated that marijuana users were more than twice as likely as non-users to move on to abuse prescription opioids, even when controlling for factors such as age, sex, race and ethnicity.