March 19, 2021

Senators Hassan and Collins Seacoast Online Op-Ed: The Crisis Within a Crisis

WASHINGTON – In case you missed it, U.S. Senators Maggie Hassan (D-NH) and Susan Collins (R-ME) wrote a piece for Seacoast Online on the ongoing need to address substance use disorder amid the COVID-19 pandemic. In the piece, the Senators highlight their bipartisan Opioid Workforce Act to support hospitals in hiring and training doctors in addiction medicine, addiction psychiatry, and pain management. The COVID-19 relief and year-end funding bill that Senators Hassan and Collins helped to negotiate and pass into law in December included key pieces of this bill.
 
“Treatment and recovery centers across the country have worked hard to adapt services in the face of unprecedented circumstances, such as changing offices to allow for physical distancing, and expanding access to telemedicine. But it is clear that they need more resources – and staff – to combat the substance misuse crisis during this pandemic and beyond it,” the Senators wrote.
 
To read the Senators’ op-ed in Seacoast Online, click here or see below.
 
The crisis within a crisis
By Senators Maggie Hassan and Susan Collins
 
Our country recently marked the grim milestone of more than 500,000 Americans lost to COVID-19. It is hard to comprehend the magnitude of half a million lives lost, which is more Americans than we lost in World I, World War II, and the Vietnam War combined.
 
But as we continue to respond to this pandemic, we are also urging our colleagues in Congress to not lose sight of the crisis within a crisis. In addition to COVID-19, our communities are still reeling from the devastating impacts of the substance misuse crisis; a crisis still raging throughout America.
 
In many ways, this pandemic has made the challenges of addressing substance misuse even more difficult. People in New Hampshire, Maine, and across the country have had less access to the in-person treatment and recovery services and supports that they need to stay in recovery. At the same time, added social isolation, stress, and anxiety from the pandemic has increased the chances of individuals becoming addicted or experiencing a relapse. A study taken last year from the Addiction Policy Forum indicated that 20 percent of respondents reported that their own or a family member’s substance use increased since the start of the pandemic.
 
Treatment and recovery centers across the country have worked hard to adapt services in the face of unprecedented circumstances, such as changing offices to allow for physical distancing, and expanding access to telemedicine. But it is clear that they need more resources – and staff – to combat the substance misuse crisis during this pandemic and beyond it.
 
One major challenge in addressing this crisis is that our country continues to experience a shortage of doctors trained in addiction and pain management. And even beyond addiction medicine, the United States is projected to have a physician shortage of up to 139,000 doctors by 2033. We are working to address those shortages and grow our physician workforce.
 
Last Congress, we introduced the bipartisan Opioid Workforce Act to support hospitals in hiring and training doctors in addiction medicine, addiction psychiatry, and pain management. Our bipartisan bill aimed to create 1,000 new medical residency positions at teaching hospitals in New Hampshire, Maine, and across the country, which would help hospitals create and expand their addiction prevention and treatment programs.
 
We were proud to be part of the bipartisan group that helped get emergency COVID-19 relief and a year-end funding bill passed into law in December. Critically, that bill included portions of the Opioid Workforce Act.
 
That legislation worked to address the physician shortage by investing in physician training and increasing the number of Medicare-supported graduate medical education training positions by 1,000. This will help ensure that we have more doctors available to care for patients, including addiction medicine doctors.
 
We have more work to do to address workforce shortages, particularly in rural areas. And we will continue focusing on efforts to ensure that hospitals have the resources to hire and train doctors specifically focused on addressing addiction and substance misuse.
 
Communities across our country are grappling with dual public health challenges with COVID-19 and the substance misuse crisis. We will continue working to provide resources that will give vital support and help save lives.
 

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