By Executive Order on October 3, 2020, President Trump established the Coronavirus Mental Health Working Group chaired by Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and White House Domestic Policy Council Acting Director Brooke Rollins. The Working Group is charged with facilitating an “all of government” response to the mental health, behavioral health and substance use disorders exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Governor Christie’s recommendations to the Working Group focus on the opioid epidemic and encourage policy actions that build upon the recommendations of the President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis, which he chaired. Specifically, Governor Christie called for expanded access to medication-assisted therapy for opioid use disorder through greater regulatory flexibility for the use of telemedicine and by authorizing specialized health practitioners to treat greater numbers of patients.
In supporting these recommendations, Governor Christie wrote:
“The arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the response to the opioid epidemic and exacerbated it in significant ways. The pandemic required prolonged lockdown orders and widespread social isolation, which feeds into addiction and substance use disorders. Patients lost access to vital in-person visits and counseling, and fear of exposure to COVID-19 has led many to avoid going to hospitals for emergency treatment. Unfortunately, emergency departments wind up serving as the primary contact point for many Americans suffering from substance use disorder and are therefore important access points for patients to receive treatment. Initial reports from the Overdose Detection Mapping Application Program (“ODMAP”), a federal initiative that collects real-time data from public sources, demonstrated that overdoses increased by 18% in March of 2020, 29% in April, and 42% in May. The full impact of COVID-19 on substance use disorder will not be known for some time, but it is imperative that we continue to take strong action to fight this epidemic.”
Governor Christie’s complete recommendations are available at this link.