Acting Director visits a substance use treatment program, a recovery-ready workplace, and the city’s mobile syringe service program
Washington, D.C. — Yesterday, Regina LaBelle, Acting Director of National Drug Control Policy, traveled to Baltimore, Maryland, to see the city’s addiction infrastructure and its response to the overdose and addiction epidemic. She visited REACH Health Services, a substance use treatment program, where she met with medical practitioners and individuals receiving services for their substance use disorders. She then visited Nalley Fresh, a workplace committed to hiring people in recovery, where she met people in recovery and Chef Greg Nalley, the employer who gave them a second chance. Finally, she visited Baltimore Health Commissioner Dr. Letitia Dzirasa and the Department’s mobile syringe service program, which is providing critical harm reduction and healthcare services to people who use drugs in the city. Expanding access to quality, evidence-based treatment, supporting people in recovery, and providing life-saving harm reduction services are all key elements of the Biden-Harris Administration’s first-year drug policy priorities.
“An important part of effective policymaking is talking to people doing the work on the ground to help prevent overdose deaths and treat people with addiction,” said Regina LaBelle, Acting Director of National Drug Control Policy. “Yesterday’s trip to Baltimore provided the opportunity to see how life-saving harm reduction and treatment services are being provided and to hear first-hand how we can help them in their important work. The Biden-Harris Administration views these efforts as critical to addressing the overdose and addiction epidemic and saving lives.”
“All of us at the Institutes for Behavior Resources (IBR) and REACH Health Services were so pleased to have the opportunity to host Acting ONDCP Director Regina LaBelle and her team,” said Dr. Steve Hursh, IBR President and Chief Scientist. “We were thrilled to be able to demonstrate to the Acting Director and her team how their focus on the policy continuum across prevention, harm reduction, treatment, and recovery plays out in the community,” added Dr. Yngvild Olsen, REACH Health Services Medical Director.
“We were pleased to welcome Acting Director LaBelle to Baltimore yesterday to demonstrate the success of our Community Risk Reduction Services program,” said Baltimore City Health Commissioner Dr. Letitia Dzirasa. “Our team members meet residents where they are, helping individuals with substance use disorders overcome addiction by linking them to drug treatment services, assisting with related challenges such as wound care, offering free opioid overdose trainings, and reducing the circulation of unclean syringes. We look forward to continued collaboration with the Biden-Harris Administration on these and other novel strategies to reduce addiction and curb the opioid epidemic.”
The latest provisional data from the CDC estimates more than 90,000 Americans died from drug overdose between October 2019 and September 2020—an unprecedented level. Driving this rise is the increasing availability and use of highly potent, illicitly manufactured fentanyl and fentanyl analogues. In Maryland alone, estimated drug overdose deaths rose 11 percent year over year.
This visit to Baltimore provided a critical look at the current state of the epidemic and came during a week-long effort to recognize the progress that the Biden-Harris Administration has made in drug policy in the first 100 days. Other notable events this week included Acting Director LaBelle providing virtual remarks at the Ohio State University Collegiate Recovery Center’s commencement ceremony on Tuesday and the Acting Director publishing an op-ed in STAT News on Monday about the importance of the federal government’s decision to allow grantees to use federal funds to purchase fentanyl test strips, a key harm reduction tool. The op-ed was coauthored by Tom Coderre, the Acting Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Use, and Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The Biden-Harris Administration has already taken a number of urgent steps to address the overdose and addiction epidemic. In just the first 100 days, the Office of National Drug Control Policy released the Biden-Harris Administration’s first-year drug policy priorities, setting an agenda that emphasizes a whole-of-government approach to reducing overdoses and saving lives. President Biden’s American Rescue Plan provided nearly $4 billion in funding for mental and behavioral health, and his FY 2022 budget request calls for $10.7 billion to address the opioid epidemic. Additionally, the Department of Health and Human Services expanded access to buprenorphine for treating opioid use disorder and changed a policy to allow grantees to use federal funds to purchase fentanyl test strips. Furthermore, in February, ONDCP disbursed a historic $273 million in baseline funding for the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) program in an effort to reduce the supply of drugs and expand the innovative Overdose Response Strategy to all 50 states. This urgent work to save lives, expand access to treatment, and build the addiction infrastructure the country needs will continue throughout 2021 and beyond.