First Glance: Commission to Reduce Opioid Abuse, Barriers to Care, and Suicide

The risk of opioid overdose has reached an all-time high, killing approximately 91 people daily, asserts the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In keeping with his campaign promises, President Trump established the Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis via executive order on March 29, 2017, reports the Office of the Press Secretary. But, what has the Commission accomplished so far, and how will it aim to curb the spike in overdose rates?

As a behavioral health or community health center, your organization needs to understand the Commission’s responsibilities and how it will shape the future of rehabilitation, addiction treatment and community programs.


What Has the Commission Accomplished?

The Commission held its first meeting on June 16, 2017, and it represents the first high-profile steps toward a future free from the grip of the opioid epidemic. According to Katelyn Newman of U.S. News, the Commission’s key objectives include the following:

  • Identifying trends in drug abuse and among those caught in the cycle.
  • Establishing clear demands for resources to fight the epidemic.
  • Reducing the stigma attached to drug abuse, particularly involving co-occurring mental health disorders.
  • The creation of immediate, interim recommendations to begin reducing the deluge of drug abuse until a final report can be completed by October 1, 2017, explains Laura Santhanam of PBS.

During the first meeting, all members, under the direction of Gov. Chris Christie, chairman, expressed concerns over the current state of the epidemic. In addition, the Commission heard testimony from biology and addiction experts, recounting both personal and professional stories of those treated, family members, friends and others affected by the epidemic. Upon recess, the Commission planned to continue working on the creation of a list of recommendations due at the end of the month.

Unfortunately, the Commission was unable to meet this deadline within the 11 days remaining before the White House’s deadline. The delayed submission indicates the Commission’s strong, unyielding work to create flexible, stringent recommendations that will have an impact and reduce the epidemic’s physical, emotional and financial costs. In other words, two weeks was simply not enough time to consider the scope of testimonies and create recommendations in the best interest of the public.


What Will the Commission Recommend for Funding and Treatment Availability?

The Commission’s members have already expressed strong support for additional funding to cover addiction treatment and the severe stigma associated with it, reports Lev Facher of PBS. The first meeting’s testimony also noted how the stigma is part of the problem. People may avoid disclosing their history of drug abuse, leading to shame, depression, anxiety and even greater frequency of substance abuse.

The cycle becomes self-fulfilling. So, identifying risk for suicide and co-occurring mental health issues will become an integral part of the recommendations.

The failure to meet the initial deadline does not mean hope is lost. Instead, the delayed submission of interim recommendations implies additional recommendations are being created. This will ensure the creation of more robust and extensive recommendations than industry experts predicted. Moreover, the Commission has the potential to address another aspect of the epidemic, as identified by Nathaniel Popper of The New York Times for its illicit drugs’ — including fentanyl— for their high mortality rates, the Dark Web.


What Will the Commission Do About the Dark Web?

The Dark Web, or the Dark Net, refers to webpages and websites that require authorization, not unlike logging into your company’s network, to access, reports Bitcoin Magazine. As a result, these sites lack indexing by search engines, and authorities lack the legal authorization to really do anything about it. This is due to the anonymity within the Dark Web, allowing users and sellers to connect and purchase illicit drugs, particularly fentanyl, online.

While the problem was eliminated in 2013 with the shutdown of the primary supplier, numerous companies copying the supplier’s tactics have risen to power. Only when a shipment is identified as hazardous or sets off the proverbial alarms, can authorities do anything to track down the seller and buyer. Meanwhile, thousands of small packages containing opioids may go unnoticed.

The solution seems to be the development of additional software and programs capable of entering the Dark Web without tripping off the dealer’s cybersecurity measures.

This will be a key recommendation to watch for as the Commission pushes forward. The Commission may ask for the development of an advanced, algorithm-based tool or the creation of a sub-commission with the specific purpose of finding and preventing the illicit import of opioids from overseas’ manufacturers and sellers. Also, this implies an increased recommendation for more funding to combat the problem.


How Will the Commission Impact Treatment?

Treatment for all behavioral health concerns, especially among people suffering from both substance abuse and co-occurring mental illnesses, will be a priority in both the interim and final report. Treatment facilities may face new guidelines for when a person-served may be released or otherwise discharged from an inpatient facility.

Facilities offering outpatient treatment and services may be advised to take a hands-on approach in encouraging people to continue treatment. This may include using modern technologies to enhance recovery and sobriety among those served.

For example, behavioral and mental health facilities providing services to those with addiction problems may be advised to expand or begin offering the following services:

  • Complimentary or discounted ride sharing for those without transportation to make group meetings or other appointments.
  • Telehealth apps or services to give those with addiction an immediate line of access to a psychologist, therapist or sponsor at any time.
  • Better electronic health records (EHR) access for individuals receiving services, allowing for better continuity of care and lower risk of relapse.

Community health centers may also be asked to collect and submit data reflecting the core problems faced in each community revolving around the opioid epidemic. This may allow the Commission to finalize its report and develop workable, recovery-driving recommendations in October.


What Does Your Organization Need to Do Now?

There is no one-size-fits-all response in the time between now and the Commission’s interim and final recommendations. Rather than waiting for a response and direction, begin gathering data and statistics to give to the Commission. Ask your organization’s behavioral health professionals to send reports or documentation reflecting their testimony to your organization for submission to the Commission. The key to giving the Commission the tools and bargaining power it needs for success lies in providing it with the most robust, detailed account of the epidemic’s current state.

More than anything else, it is important to not succumb to the firestorm within politics. The opioid epidemic is unlike any crisis the U.S. has ever faced. It is time to put campaign colors aside and understand you owe it to the people counting on your services to keep your team updated with the Commission’s recommendations, including any new or updated training and treatment recommendations for reducing the epidemic’s burden. Standing with the  Commission is the first step toward stopping the epidemic in its tracks.

Jason Vanover

Working in health care since 2005, Jason's body of experience encompasses dozens of care settings, including Senior care, psychiatric facilities, nonprofit health service centers, group homes for those with developmental disabilities and beyond. Jason understands the need to tailor his skills to each setting to encourage the best treatment outcomes and promote an inclusive, healing environment.

Connect with Us

to find out more about our training and resources