Acknowledging that he is “deeply concerned” about the consequences of healthcare delivery and access to mental healthcare being altered by COVID-19 this year, U.S. Surgeon General Jerome M. Adams, MD, MPH, strongly advocated for an increased focus on preventative measures to fight addiction during a recent National Council for Behavioral Health luncheon.
“I want to help turn the faucet off, not just mop up the flood,” he told attendees during the virtual event.
Emotional and economic stress can also lead to or worsen substance misuse if individuals try to cope by turning to substances such as tobacco and alcohol, or are unable to maintain healthy patterns of sleep and exercise, said Adams, also noting that more than 40 states of reported increases in opioid-related mortality. Among the preventative steps the behavioral healthcare field can take is raising awareness of and working to proactively address adverse childhood experiences, and to also promote trauma-informed care.
Unemployment, cited as a major driver of emotional and economic stress during the luncheon, continues to be a challenge. This week, U.S. Labor Department reported that more than 804,000 Americans filed new claims for state unemployment benefits, while another 464,000 filed for federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance benefits—statistics that do not include California, which has temporarily suspended unemployment benefit applications.
James Carroll, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, told attendees last week that employment is “essential to sustaining recovery and fully rejoining and contributing to one’s community,” and that as the U.S. economy begins to recover, individuals in recovery can’t be left out.
“My team is working across all the federal agencies to expand employment opportunities for people in recovery, to encourage the development of more recovery-friendly workplaces where no one should be afraid to ask for help for an alcohol or other drug problem, and where a welcoming and supportive workplace awaits someone after treatment,” Carroll said.
To that end, Carroll said that on Sept. 3, he, Adams, senior economic advisor Larry Kudlow and First Lady Melania Trump welcomed recovery-friendly employers, people in recovery and advocates to the White House for a conference to discuss practices for hiring individuals in recovery and developing recovery-friendly workplaces.
National Council president and CEO Chuck Ingoglia, meanwhile, implored attendees to meet the challenges the field currently faces to expand access, challenge antiquated notions that make access to care or tweaking operational protocols difficult, incorporate emerging evidence, and embrace new approaches, such as harm reduction and creating low-barrier access to medication for the treatment of OUD.
“If COVID has taught us anything,” Ingoglia said, “it has demonstrated our ability to change and adapt, to do things to be stronger and to have belief that anything is possible.”
Ingoglia added that the pandemic “has reminded us that the burden of disease in this country is experienced differently” by different racial and ethnic groups.
“The same is true when it comes to substance use disorders,” he said. “The National Council is trying to lead this discussion in our members to make sure we are responding and creating appropriate outreach and support for all people in all communities.”