More people have died from the opioid crisis than in any other war since World War II. Bonnie et al. (2017) state that over two million people suffer from Opioid Use Disorder most of whom use the substance without prescription. Despite this, the issue has not been well addressed, and many people, including medical experts, do not know the exact effect of the misuse of opioids. Indeed, in spite of the drug being brutally fatal, many people continue consuming the drug for non-medical reasons. Setting significant policies and methods may significantly impact the way people interact with the drug, saving many lives. Two senators address the health care policy of the opioid crisis in a letter to the department of health stating what has been done and what ought to be done. This paper will look at a policy issue addressed by two senators to a federal government executive and then give my personal beliefs and recommendations.
Description of the Policy Issue Introduced by the Senators
In a letter to the U.S. Department of Health, Wisconsin senators Tammy Baldwin and Tina Smith (D-MN) asked the Biden administration to continue with its good strategy of preventing and reducing the harm brought by opioid abuse. In the letter, the administrators have highlighted how the recent COVID-19 has worsened the opioid and substance use disorder (SUD) epidemic. The primary catalyst of the increased usage of the substances the senators have stated to be isolation, which has led to depression and decreased access to treatment. Evidence-based solutions have been recommended in the letter to help mitigate the worsening SUD pandemic. Baldwin and Smith (2021) have advocated for the obedience of all instructions given by medical experts to mitigate harm, including overdose reduction education, syringe service programs (SSPs), and naloxone access initiatives. The stateswomen have further requested that the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) quickly allocate the funds legalized by the American Rescue Plan Act (P.L. 117-2) to solve the SUD problem.
The senators also illustrate the benefits of harm reduction programs by arguing they serve their role of preventing SUD and preventing the transmission of hepatitis and HIV. Another core issue that the two leaders have focused on is the current shortage of Naloxone, a drug that reduces the risk of death after an opioid overdose. Naloxone is an opioid antagonist and, if used on time, can save the lives of many patients (Chimbar & Moleta, 2018). The letter has clearly elaborated to the assistant secretary Mariam Delphin-Rittmon the critical role SSPs play in distributing Naloxone. The two further urge SAMHSA to take all the necessary steps in ensuring Naloxone is distributed to all needed destinations and ensure they work in conjunction with key stakeholders to reduce substance use abuse. They finish the letter by thanking the assistant secretary and other key leaders in the Biden administration for their support on the issue.
Why the Policy Matters and How to Strengthen It
The COVID-19 pandemic has worsened an already bad enough crisis of opioids by locking people up, which increases depression and reduces the opportunity to have constant medical supplies. U.S. federal government has done a commendable job to reduce the SUD issue by showing strong dedication to solving the crisis. However, the stateswomen have noted a few policy issues to be pointed out and acted upon. One of these is how to smoothen the services of SSPs, and this issue should be addressed because, apart from mitigating the SUD problems, it reduces the transmission of other diseases like hepatitis and HIV. Another issue addressed in the letter is for SAMHSA to quickly release the approved $30 million funding to help fight against substance abuse and mental disorders. Funding is always crucial as so far drug is concerned, and these funds should never be subjected to delays as this could lead to loss of lives.
Shortages of funds used in the fight against SUD and the naloxone shortage are issues that should be discussed continuously, and the policies given to the state department of health should be considered and implemented because they are essential. The policies matter because they are interlinked with human lives and not taking the correct evidence-based decisions, and many lives could be lost due to opioid overdose. To strengthen these policies, it would be advisable for the pharmaceuticals to forbid patients from prescribing opioid drugs to themselves, and those patients given the doses by medical experts should be well monitored closely by those near them to ensure no overdose. I would also request the federal government for extra financing of the SAMHSA and SSPs, and if that is not possible, I will table a motion in the Senate on the same issue. I would also request all those who come across the letter to do whatever is in their power to limit COVID-19 restrictions, with those with prior SUD being exempted.
Role as an Advocate
As an advocate for the healthcare consumer, I would first encourage them to always seek medical advice before taking any pain prescription, especially those with opioids. If they are to self-administer the drugs, it is imperative to advise them to have a guardian to help them monitor their dosage. During this time, people are faced with the COVID-19 pandemic, patients with SUD history should stay in touch with their doctors or have Naloxone close to them in case of an emergency. I would also promote stress reduction strategies like having a healthy diet, regular exercise, and staying in touch with friends and relatives, limiting the chances of exposure to drug abuse. Opioid consumers should be encouraged to regularly visit educational facilities to be guided on the safe intake of this helpful but dangerous drug.
In the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, I would ensure that the healthcare professionals deal with the two healthcare concerns prudently. As an advocate for healthcare professionals, it is important to advise them to be careful with the dosage that pharmaceuticals advise and give them a case study of Purdue Pharma, a company that used deception to boost its sales of opioids. Giving them statistics on the opioid epidemic, will help them understand the magnitude of the issue. I would advise healthcare professionals to focus on harm reduction as far as the patient can withstanding the pain. As their advocate, requesting the legal bodies grant the doctors the autonomy to decide the volume of the opioid to administer to their patients in different circumstances would also be vital. I would also fight for adequate funding for healthcare professionals to help them in reducing the dangers posed by the opioid epidemic.
Impacts of the Policy
The harm reduction policies recommended by the two senators could save the lives of many citizens not only in the U.S. but also across the globe. By providing a drug overdose reduction education, many abusers of these drugs could know the risks involved and help those already addicted to the substance fight the addiction. Oldfield et al. (2019) show that education for clinicians and those affected by the addiction could significantly reduce opioid overdose-related deaths. The extensive distribution of Naloxone advocated in the policy to help reduce the adverse effects of overdosing on opioids could save many lives. The support and the funding offered by the American rescue plan act and the federal government will primarily help fight the crisis if the drugs reach their targets on time. Following the policy recommendations of the two administrators could save a large community in the U.S. affected by drug and substance overuse.
Promoters to Work With
There are several promoters I can work with to promote this cause are, so many that they can be listed. However, the first promoter that comes into my mind is the SAMHSA. This is the branch of the U.S. Department of health concerned with substance abuse, and it has a vast number of resources that would help many victims in these pandemic times. I would also work with the two senators, Tammy Baldwin and Tina Smith, as they have shown great concern and have the power to fight for this cause. Congress is also powerful, and working closely with it to gain funding benefits for the issue would be an excellent move. Working with the centers for disease control and prevention (CDC) would help convince them that those with SUD problems should be exempted from the isolation rules. The CDC would help me in many ways as the committee is formed to fight the opioid overdose epidemic and support the community and the state.
It would also be hard to work on this policy issue without the help of the food and drug administration. This public institution ensures human safety and efficacy in drug and biological products. This company enforces the law for consumables and non-consumables, including lasers and cellphones. It would also work with Congress because it helps pass various legislations. I would also need to work with various state governments and even international governing bodies if and when needed. Working with local health departments such as NACCHO would also be imperative. Attorneys are known to have a reputation for going against drug companies that produce opioids for reasons other than medication or those that conceal the fact that their drugs contain opioids would make for a good Allie.
The policy the two senators recommend could have considerable benefits in solving the drug abuse issue in the county if adequately followed. In recommending the U.S. government’s excellent work done and offering the good guidelines tackled in this paper, the legislators show the federal government what it can take to improve its services. The policy advocated for by the senators is essential because it seeks to streamline and smoothen the operations of various state departments into offering a better solution on the subject. I would seek to consider both COVID-19 restrictions and SUD reduction to strengthen the policy. Moreover, it is important to have to choose carefully the promoters that I would work with to achieve my mission.
Baldwin, T., & Smith, T. (2021). Baldwin, smith call for continued support for opioid overdose prevention and harm reduction in COVID-19 recovery efforts. U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin.
Bonnie, R. J., Ford, M. A., Phillips, J., & And, E. (2017). Pain management and the opioid epidemic: balancing societal and individual benefits and risks of prescription opioid use. The National Academies Press.
Chimbar, L., & Moleta, Y. (2018). Naloxone effectiveness: A systematic review. Journal of Addictions Nursing, 29(3), 167–171.
Oldfield, B. J., Tetrault, J. M., Wilkins, K. M., Edelman, E. J., & Capurso, N. A. (2019). Opioid overdose prevention education for medical students: Adopting harm reduction into mandatory clerkship curricula. Substance Abuse, 41(1), 29–34.