Prescription overdoses and addiction rates have dramatically increased in the United States since 2012, with more than 70,000 deaths attributed to the abuse of fentanyl, opioids, cocaine, and methamphetamine in 2019, a 35% increase since 2015. Addressing drug misuse is a top priority for the Biden-Harris administration, as well as researching systematic inequities in the country’s approach to criminal justice and prevention, treatment, and recovery.

In March 2021, Biden signed into law the American Rescue Plan, adding nearly $4 billion in funding to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and the Health Resources and Services Administration to expand vital behavioral health services, a crucial step in reducing overdoses and defeating the opioid epidemic. To further address and work to defeat the epidemic, the White House identified key drug policy priorities for the plan’s first year, it said in a statement.

“These drug policy priorities take a bold approach to reducing overdoses and saving lives,” the administration said. “The priorities provide guideposts to ensure that the federal government promotes evidence-based public health and public safety interventions.

“The priorities also emphasize several cross-cutting facets of the epidemic, namely by focusing on ensuring racial equity in drug policy and promoting harm-reduction efforts,” the administration continued. Expanding access to behavioral health services and offering treatment to individuals, rather than incarcerating them on drug charges, will help eradicate racial, gender, and economic inequities that currently exist in the criminal justice system.

Biden’s additional priorities include enhancing evidence-based harm reduction efforts, supporting evidence-based prevention efforts to reduce youth substance abuse, reducing the supply of illicit substances, advancing recovery-ready workplaces and expanding additional workforce, and expanding access to recovery support services. To address these priorities, further research, support, and collaboration between providers, researchers, and leaders are needed.

Changing the approach from criminalizing users to providing them with health care shifts the focus from punitive to humane. As a nurse, use your role as a patient advocate and nurse leader during the opioid epidemic. Learn how to prevent opioid misuse while effectively managing cancer pain with ONS Voice and the Oncology Nursing Podcast.