Health Policy$ense

The Fierce Urgency of the Overdose Crisis

Federal Policy Recommendations

In the past few months, we have seen what can be accomplished when the federal government marshalls its resources and mobilizes a nation to address a health crisis. While there is no vaccine for the epidemic of overdoses that has claimed more than 80,000 lives in the past year alone, we already have effective treatments for opioid use disorders and proven life-saving strategies. There is an urgent need for federal leadership to address an overdose crisis that has worsened throughout the pandemic.

That is why, today, we are releasing evidence-based policy recommendations for the Biden Administration. We point to policies that can have an immediate effect in reducing barriers to prevention, treatment, and recovery services; we recommend ways to reduce the harm from potent, synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl, that are now becoming the major driver of overdose deaths.

These recommendations are actionable. Here we highlight two priorities:

  • Expanding access to treatment through passage of the bipartisan Mainstreaming Addiction Treatment Act, which would eliminate the “X-waiver” that providers need to prescribe buprenorphine. To further expand access to rural and underserved communities, we call for permanently expanding the use of telemedicine so that effective treatments can reach rural and underserved communities.
  • Increasing support for harm reduction strategies, such as naloxone access, syringe services programs, fentanyl testing strip distribution, safe consumption spaces, and decriminalization. These strategies reduce the risk of morbidity and mortality associated with substance use, including opioids and stimulants.

Our policy brief points to other steps as well, to limit opioid prescribing and to encourage more effective pain management. Together, these recommendations represent an agenda for the Biden administration to overcome the failed policies of the past and the stigma that keeps us from recognizing the overdose crisis as the preventable tragedy that it is. Now is the time to act, as a government and a nation, to end the opioid and overdose epidemic.