President Biden and I have something big in common: We’re both fathers who’ve coped with a son’s addiction. It has been so powerful to see President Biden show unconditional love for Hunter and an empathetic attitude about addiction throughout his campaign.
The COVID-19 pandemic continues to wear on, and it has changed so much about our lives. For many, it has led to increased isolation, economic struggle, and a newfound, constant uncertainty. As a result, our country’s addiction crisis, which was already dire before the coronavirus outbreak, has now become significantly worse.
Over 81,000 drug overdose deaths occurred in the United States in the 12 months ending in May 2020, which is the largest number of overdose deaths ever in recorded history.
I know firsthand how deadly a lack of quality care can be. I lost my son, Brian, in 2011, after he cycled through eight different addiction treatment programs. Not one of those programs offered Brian treatment that was based on the most recent science. I know that my family is not alone in our suffering. Each and every day in this country, hundreds of Americans die from addiction to alcohol and other drugs, leaving hundreds of families shattered. Tragically, the science exists to reduce many of these deaths, but it is not being used.
Let’s be clear: Addiction is a treatable illness. We need direct action from the Biden administration to ensure that funding by the federal government is used only for treatment that is based on the most recent science. I would think this should be bipartisan and unarguable.
Shatterproof is doing our part. We’ve issued a memo to the Biden administration outlining five key policy priorities that should be the focus of their addiction policy agenda. These priorities are all rooted in science and, if enacted, will save countless lives.
The administration must remove barriers to effective treatment, like medications. Decades of research prove that addiction medications reduce cravings, prevent fatal overdose, and help patients find lasting recovery. But the vast majority of doctors in the United States cannot prescribe these lifesaving medications due to outdated restrictions. The administration must also increase addiction training for providers, so all are prepared to prevent, identify, and treat substance use disorders. Legislation that’s currently in Congress would make both of these things happen. It must be passed.
Further, President Biden’s Health and Human Services Department should encourage state Medicaid programs to cover the Collaborative Care Model codes and educate primary care practices on integrated care. When addiction is treated early, rather than after an emergency like an overdose, it is proven that outcomes improve greatly.
Finally, the administration must prioritize educating the public and dismantling stigma. There’s far too much chaos and confusion impacting our country’s understanding of substance use disorders. When all people, from health care providers to the general public, understand that substance use disorder is a medical illness, not a moral failing, real change can begin.
In order to make all this happen, President Biden must make addiction a top priority through the advice of experts in the field, supporting key legislation, and designating appropriate funding. He must be a beacon of hope for families in need. We’ve all suffered so much. Let’s drag addiction out of the darkness and into our hearts. Our hearts are waiting.
Gary Mendell is Shatterproof's founder and CEO.