Constituent policy

White House drug policy official says ‘human element’ key to treating people with substance use disorders

According to the Centers for Disease Controls and Prevention, approximately 100,000 Americans have died from drug overdoses in a year through May 2021 and that number will only increase unless treatment providers focus on the human aspect of substance use disorder.

That was the message conveyed from Haymarket, Va., by Rob Kent, general counsel for the White House Office of National Drug Policy, at last week’s GOW Opioid Task Force quarterly meeting via Zoom video conferencing.

“We have to understand in that number of 100,000 … it’s 100,000 people who have brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, grandparents and children themselves. It’s human,” said Kent, who previously held a similar position with the New York State Office of Substance Abuse Services and Supports and frequently worked with staff at the Genesee/Orleans Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse.

Kent said that when people see addiction beyond the human element, “we just lose the opportunity to do what we need to do, which is to help people stay alive.”

During his time with OASAS, Kent was instrumental in creating the Certified Recovery Peer Advocate program which primarily recruits people who are in recovery and can relate to those in need.

“It’s one of the things I’m most proud of,” he said. “We are demanding that insurance – both Medicaid and private insurance – pay for them because they help engage people and they are even more critical right now.

“People react positively to others who can come up to them and say, ‘I know what you’re going through, I’ve done that walk ahead — I know what it is.’ I’m not saying they are the ultimate solution, but they are certainly a key part of what needs to be done.

GCASA has incorporated CRPAs into its recovery policy, using peers at The Recovery Station on Clinton Street Road and other programs in both counties.

Kent pointed out that illegal fentanyl has become a major problem.

“I know there’s a rise in methamphetamine (methamphetamine), but illegal fentanyl is mixed into everything,” he said. “And I think it’s important for us to understand that it’s deadly; it kills people easily. And it changed the ball game.

Of that 100,000, more than 5,000 die in New York state, Kent said.

Kent said the federal government has sent billions of dollars to states in additional block grants. In March 2021, New York received $104 million from the stimulus package and a few months later received another $90 million from the American Rescue Plan Act.

He said an additional $50 million to $100 million is expected to flow to states over the next few years.

While money is vital, spending it properly is just as important, Kent said.

“I don’t pay enough attention to New York to know how much has been spent, but they should be spending it because people are dying right now,” he said. “I am very optimistic with the new commissioner (OASAS) (Chinazo Cunningham) that she understands what is happening. She has a heart; she cares and she will do her best to do the right thing.

Kent said the Biden administration has made harm reduction a key part of its overall approach to addressing substance use disorders through prevention, treatment and recovery, where people who use substances set their own goals. Federal funds are being used to purchase fentanyl test strips and other testing equipment, sponsor needle service programs, expand access to naloxone, and create guidelines for simplified and expanded prescribing of buprenorphine .

“I know there are reactions (from people) to harm reduction in general in the services that I just talked about,” he said. “Some people will tell you that you allow drug use. I’m saying when we don’t do these things, we don’t know it’s happening.

Connecting with those who suffer from substance use disorders in authentic and meaningful ways will ultimately make the biggest difference, Kent said.

“We have to understand that we can continue to sit here and talk about drug use as a lack of willpower – a lack of personal strength, whatever you want to call it – and we can continue to do that. and watching more and more people in this country die from drug use, or we could hug people,” he said. “We could understand that they’re human beings. , they have loved ones, and when we focus on that from that perspective, then anything becomes possible.

Disclosure: Mike Pettinella is GCASA’s publicist.