Top Biden Admin. drug control official visits recovery summit in Saint Paul

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An American dies of an overdose about every five minutes, according to Dr. Rahul Gupta. He’s responsible for developing the response to the crisis as the director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.

“The need to first to save lives and then to get them in treatment and then get them in recovery has never been more urgent or more important,” said Dr. Gupta, during a visit to Saint Paul on Monday.

He spoke at the Faces and Voices of Recovery Leadership Summit at the RiverCentre, where hundreds of recovery leaders are gathered this week to discuss strategies to improve services for those struggling with substance use disorder.

“It’s one of the most urgent public health problems in America – addiction and mental health,” said Jeremiah Gardner, a Faces and Voices of Recovery board member. “Getting together here is not only timely but it’s just so needed because we’re not going to get out of this crisis without really engaging thousands of people in institutions and the grassroots level to help all those who are struggling.”

Dr. Gupta also sat on a panel with recovery community organization leaders. They shared concerns over funding for their programs, the availability of housing for those in recovery, and racial disparities.

“I travel across the nation and obviously there are gaps,” said Dr. Gupta. “We’re not where we need to be.”

In April, the White House released its National Drug Control Strategy, which set a goal for increasing the number of peer-led recovery community organizations nationwide by 25% by 2025. It also calls for the expansion of high school, college, and employment-related programs for those in recovery.

“I think one of the things we’re trying to do is to make sure recovery support services and recovery community organizations are able to have resources available to them,” said Dr. Gupta. “Minnesota stands out as a state that leads and has led in treatment when it comes to substance use disorder. It’s a leader across the nation with that and we’re looking forward to see how it will also become, in the future, a leader in recovery.”

He said access to treatment needs to be improved across the country. The policy sets a goal of admitting into treatment 100% of those populations most at risk of overdose death.

“Less than one out of 10 people who need treatment are able to get it or find it,” said Dr. Gupta. “We don’t have to the extent, which I would like, to see the availability of treatment ‘then and there’ and that’s an important piece because that individual may not be able to make that decision for months or may not be alive to make that decision.”

There were a record 1,286 overdose deaths in Minnesota in 2021, according to the state Department of Health. There were an estimated 107,622 drug overdose deaths in the United States in 2021.

The Biden Administration has set a goal of reducing the number of drug overdose deaths by 13% by 2025.

“We know overdose deaths were rising before the pandemic and during the pandemic they have risen, in the first 18 months, 35% over the baseline,” said Dr. Gupta. “I am hopeful because we’re beginning to see the flattening of the curve.”

President Biden has proposed a more than $42 billion budget for drug control agencies in 2023. Dr. Gupta said they’ll prioritize funding requests based on each state’s needs.

“There’s money that comes from the federal government to support responses to addiction but sometimes those recovery community organizations, those grassroots organizations that are run by people with lived experience, don’t get enough of that money,” said Gardner, who hopes the federal government sets aside money for those organizations. “There is no a silver bullet but there are incremental changes and changes that need to be made over time and it’s great to see that the White House cares to send one of its highest ranking officials to hear from the people here.”