New Reports Highlight Gaps in Nation’s Response to Addiction
Stigma remains at root of seemingly intractable issues
This was originally published for Hazelden Betty Ford’s monthly Recovery Advocacy Update. If you’d like to receive our advocacy emails, subscribe today.
By Emily Piper
In about as many weeks, two significant reports have brought daylight to ongoing gaps in our country’s response to the addiction crisis. The good news is that fentanyl and the other drugs killing more Americans than ever before have the ongoing attention of Congress and the Administration. The bad news is that there isn’t a magic bullet or even a clear and comprehensive roadmap on just what to do about the crisis.
The first report was the 2022 Report to Congress on the Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act from the Departments of Labor, Health & Human Services, and Treasury. The comprehensive and data-informed assessment found that health plans and health insurance carriers are failing to bring true parity to mental health and substance use services for their members. Along with these findings, the agencies provided an update in the report, and through a separate Fact Sheet, on enforcement information, including the government’s recent action against United Behavioral Health, a large subsidiary of United Health Group. Already, activity on the parity issue is heating up on Capitol Hill.
The second report, from the Commission on Combating Synthetic Opioid Trafficking, declares synthetic drug trafficking a national emergency. The Commission, co-chaired by Congressman Trone (D-MD) and Senator Cotton (R-AR), provides recommendations on how to cut the drug supply saturating our communities, as well as how to organize and elevate a new and more coordinated approach for addiction treatment, recovery, and research related to opioids and opioid use disorder.
As I studied these reports, wondering what our call to action as a field needs to be coming on the heels of this news, I kept coming back to Dr. Jerome Adams’ talk about stigma when he was the United States Surgeon General, specifically where he addressed the root of why we find ourselves with gaping holes in our state and federal policies on substance use disorders. He said, in part, “I get asked all the time, what’s the biggest killer out there? … I think one of the biggest killers out there, if not the biggest killer is stigma…and the more we share our stories the more we break down stigma, because stigma is when we separate ourselves into us and them.”
Dr. Adams, with his own family’s experiences as the backdrop, was issuing a call to action to all of us — one more powerful now than ever before. We need to break down the stigma that has created these seemingly intractable problems if we want to see solutions become reality. And telling our stories is the most impactful way to do just that.
Emily Piper is the executive director of government relations and contracting for the nonprofit Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation.