A National Drug Control Strategy report was released last week by the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP). The report is supposed to serve as a blueprint for efforts and policies aimed at addressing “illicit drug use, manufacturing and tracking, drug-related crime and violence, and health consequences.” Unfortunately, after being nearly a year late, it only scratches the surface of a complex social issue that continues to play a major role in decreasing U.S. life expectancy.
Mainly focusing on the opioid crisis, the report uses three categories – prevention, treatment and recovery, and the availability of drugs – to deliver a handful of vague, common-sense goals that are woefully lacking in specifics. For example:
- “Support and reinforce the positive resources that family, friends, and the community can bring to bear on this crisis.”
- “Remove barriers to substance use disorder treatments, including those that limit access to any forms of FDA-approved MAT, counseling, certain inpatient/residential treatment, and other treatment modalities.”
- “Educate the public, healthcare professionals, and policymakers on the science of addiction and the promise of recovery, and how stigma and misunderstanding can undermine efforts to reduce drug use and its consequences.”
While these goals are respectable, they won’t be achieved without policy and action. And the seven performance and effectiveness measures included at the end of the report provide little opportunity for accountability.
Ironically, the Final Report of the President’s Commission on Combatting Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis, on which Kennedy Forum founder Patrick J. Kennedy served, specifically called upon the ONDCP – through the assistance of HHS and SAMSHA – to create a coordinated system for tracking federally funded anti-drug initiatives and to establish and ensure accountability by conducting thorough reviews on policy and programming for effectiveness.
Sadly, this was not reflected in the National Drug Control Strategy.
In fact, rather than building upon what the final Commission report outlined, the Strategy document simply reiterated many of its main points without any mention of how to address critical elements such as mental health parity, expanded use of telemedicine, or supportive housing.
Given that the president declared the opioid crisis a national public health emergency in 2017 – and that 70,000 Americans died from drug overdoses that year alone – the 23-page National Drug Control Strategy report (which was well over 100 pages in previous years) is a disappointment to say the least. Now more than ever, it has become clear that it will be up to families, advocates, and state leaders to walk the walk for change. The Kennedy Forum will continue its efforts to advance evidence-based practices, policies, and programming for the treatment of mental health and addiction – and empower those who can and will make a difference.