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President Biden to Outline Approach for Addressing Nation’s Mental Health & Opioid Crises in State of the Union  

In tonight’s State of the Union address, President Biden is expected to mention specific ways his administration will address America’s mental health crisis, beat its opioid overdose epidemic, and ensure parity.

In a fact sheet about the speech, “mental health” is mentioned 32 times, and “fentanyl” 23 times, signaling the Biden’s administration commitment to tackling two of the nation’s toughest domestic problems. The White House will also discuss these issues in a briefing on Wednesday, Feb. 8 at 2:30 p.m. ET. Click here to register for the webinar.

In a boost for parity, President Biden is expected to say that this administration will propose new rules this spring to ensure that insurance plans do not impose inequitable barriers to care and that mental healthcare providers are being paid by health plans on par with other healthcare professionals.
President Biden is also expected to provide details on how his administration will help expand access to mental healthcare services for all who need it, such as expanding peer support specialists for veterans; creating healthy environments for children, adolescents, and teens; and supporting the nation’s mental healthcare workforce.

The Biden administration also intends to improve the capacity of the 988 lifeline by investing in expanding the nation’s crisis care workforce; scaling mobile intervention services; and developing additional guidance on best practices in crisis response. To enhance telehealth services, HHS will triple resources dedicated to promoting interstate license reciprocity to deliver mental health services across state lines, according to the White House.

Meanwhile, Congress and the nation can expect to hear about this administration’s aggressive plans to combat the nation’s ongoing opioid crisis. News reports Tuesday quoted Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) Director Rahul Gupta, M.D. as saying President Biden will apply a “forceful approach” for going after fentanyl and expanding public health efforts to reduce overdose deaths. Such measures will include disrupting the trafficking, distribution, and sale of fentanyl. Tonight the president is expected to announce that his administration will add 123 new, large-scale scanners at land points of entry along the nation’s Southwest border by 2026, and also lead a sustained, diplomatic push to address fentanyl and its supply chain abroad.

The president is also supposed to announce a commitment to expanding access to evidence-based prevention, harm reduction, treatment, and recovery. In the last year, the Biden administration has permitted using $50 million for local public health departments to purchase naloxone; released guidance making it easier for programs to obtain and distribute naloxone to at-risk populations; and prioritized reviewing over-the-counter naloxone applications.

President Biden will deliver his State of the Union address at 9 p.m. ET.

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NABH Education and Research Foundation Partners with Manatt to Produce Issue Brief on Telehealth Services in PHP and IOP

NABH is pleased to announce that the NABH Education and Research Foundation today released an issue brief that shows how telehealth services effectively augment traditional partial hospitalization programs (PHP) and intensive outpatient programs (IOP).

The telehealth issue brief is the first resource from the NABH Education and Research Foundation, which worked with NABH members and Manatt to compile and evaluate data to measure the impact that telehealth services have had on access and outcomes.

Results from the study show that using telehealth services improved access to care and optimized the reach of existing personnel. The initial findings from several NABH members also indicated that, relative to in-person services, telehealth delivery-of-care produced similar or better outcomes for PHP and IOP patients.

The telehealth issue brief’s key findings also include:

  • During the COVID-19 crisis, regulatory flexibilities enabled traditional in-person PHPs and IOP programs to implement telehealth services rapidly.
  • Using telehealth to deliver PHP and IOP services has improved access to care for remote patients and those facing other access obstacles.
  • Emerging research is showing that, relative to in-person care, the use of telehealth in PHPs and IOPs generally is improving the quality of clinical care, patient satisfaction and the overall efficiency of the healthcare system.

NABH urges its members to read the issue brief and share it with others. The association has also created a social media toolkit with shareable graphics that highlight key research from the study. Members can access the issue brief and social media toolkit on the NABH Education and Research Foundation’s Resources page.

Manatt will host a webinar about the issue brief’s findings on Wednesday, March 1 at noon ET. Click here to learn more and register for the free webinar.

The NABH Education & Research Foundation fields independent studies and partners with other
organizations to identify and develop best practices and improve NABH members’ ability to support the country’s behavioral health needs.

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SAMHSA Proposed Rule Permits Methadone Prescribing for New Patients via Telemedicine

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) on Tuesday proposed updating federal regulations to permit using audio-visual telehealth services for any new patient treated with methadone in an Opioid Treatment Program (OTP) under specific conditions.

In a proposed rule, SAMHSA said federal regulations should be updated to allow using audio-visual telehealth services for patients treated with methadone in OTPs only if a program physician, or an authorized healthcare professional under the supervision of a program physician, determines that an adequate evaluation of the patient can be accomplished via an audio-visual telehealth platform.

This change is not extended to using audio-only telehealth platforms and applies only to ordering methadone that an OTP dispenses under existing OTP procedures.

In addition, SAMHSA’s proposed changes would update 42 CFR Part 8 by removing stigmatizing or outdated language; supporting a more patient-centered approach to treatment; and reducing barriers to receiving care.

SAMHSA’s proposed changes also would revise standards to reflect an OTP accreditation and treatment environment that has evolved since Part 8 became effective in 2001. Consequently, SAMHSA said its proposed revisions reflect evidence-based practice, language that aligns with current medical terminology, effective patient engagement approaches, and the workforce providing services in OTPs, including:

  • expanding the definition of an OTP treatment practitioner to include any provider who is appropriately licensed to dispense and/or prescribe approved medications. The current Part 8 rule defines a practitioner as being: “a physician who is appropriately licensed by the State to dispense covered medications and who possesses a waiver under 21 U.S.C.823(g)(2).” During the Covid-19 public health emergency, this has been formally expanded to align with broader definitions of a practitioner (nurse practitioners, physician assistants, etc.), and OTPs reported that this change was essential in supporting workflow and access;
  • adding evidence-based delivery models of care, such as split dosing, telehealth, and harm-reduction activities;
  • removing such outdated terms as “detoxification”;
  • updating criteria for provision of take-home doses of methadone;
  • strengthening the patient-practitioner relationship through promoting shared and evidence-based decision-making;
  • allowing for early access to take-home doses of methadone for all patients, to promote flexibility in creating plans of care that facilitate such every-day needs as employment, while also affording people with unstable access to reliable transportation the opportunity to also receive treatment; likewise, promoting mobile medication units to expand an OTPs geographic reach; and
  • reviewing OTP accreditation standards.

According to SAMHSA, the changes– which are part of President Biden’s National Drug Control Strategy – come at a time when fewer than one out of 10 Americans can access treatment for substance use disorder.

SAMHSA will accept public comments on the proposed rule until Feb. 14, 2023.

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Biden Administration Launches Opioid Overdose Dashboard

The Biden Administration on Thursday unveiled a new website featuring the Office of National Drug Control Policy’s (ONDCP) new Opioid Overdose Tracker to track non-fatal, opioid overdoses in the pre-hospital setting in an effort to prevent overdose deaths.

Non-fatal overdoses are a good predictor of fatal overdoses, Biden administration officials said during a news briefing Wednesday according to Politico. People who experience at least one non-fatal overdose are about two to three times more likely to eventually die from one, they said.

Using data submitted to the National Emergency Medical Services Information System (NEMSIS), the new dashboard contains one interactive page with a geo-surveillance view, and its data set includes all de-duplicated Emergency Medical Services (EMS) patient care reports for a rolling time period that meet specific inclusion criteria.

In 2022, all 50 states, three territories (the Virgin Islands, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands), and Washington, D.C. had submitted data to the national database, according to NEMSIS. The NEMSIS Technical Assistance Center collects data from about 95% of all EMS agencies in the United States that respond to 911 requests for emergency care and transport patients to acute care facilities.

Earlier this year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that 80,816 Americans died from opioid overdoses in 2021, increasing from an estimated 70,029 in 2020.

According to a National Public Radio story, ONDCP Director Rahul Gupta, M.D. told reporters during a call that “We could see tens of thousands of additional lives saved” with the new tool, which Gupta said he hopes first responders, clinicians, and policymakers will use to connect people to care and also minimize response times and ensure that resources are available.

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