Jim Carroll column

Last April, I had the privilege of participating in the Faces and Voices of Recovery Awards Ceremony of the McShin Foundation, which is based in the Richmond area. This ceremony provided an opportunity to recognize some of those who have helped their fellow Virginians make tremendous strides on their recovery journey.

Since its founding in 2004, the McShin Foundation has been one of Virginia’s leading nonprofit, full-service recovery community organizations.

Over the past 15 years, the McShin Foundation has proved that recovery works, and that healing is possible.

It is transformative and life-changing, and it is a positive experience.

As a result of the efforts of the McShin Foundation and others, lives are being saved in Virginia, and, ultimately, that is what the fight against addiction is all about.

Since becoming the director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy in the White House, I have made saving lives my top priority and the top priority of my office. Addiction is not about cold, hard stats or impersonal numbers; instead, it is about people. We want those who are struggling with the disease of addiction to know they are loved by their family, friends and even strangers. For this reason, the Trump administration’s National Drug Control Strategy focuses on saving lives; because of this focus and our relentless effort, we are beginning to see results.

Through the first two years of the Trump administration, there was a 31% decrease in the total amount of opioids that pharmacies dispensed. The administration is getting more people into treatment. One way we are doing this is by supporting Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT), which combines behavioral therapy and medication to treat substance use disorders.

Overall, 250,000 more Americans received medication-assisted treatment in 2018 than in 2016. At federally funded health centers, the number of patients receiving medication-assisted treatment jumped by 142% during the president’s first two years in office. The administration also is working aggressively to get more naloxone into communities across the country, and as a result of these efforts, the number of naloxone prescriptions has increased by 378%.

Thanks to these and other efforts, provisional data suggests that in 2018 there was a 5% decrease in the number of people who died from a drug overdose. Since 1990, that number has consistently been increasing, but now we are beginning to reverse that awful trend.

Of course, more work needs to be done, but thanks to the bold and innovative work happening all across the country we will see that number continue to decline and, more importantly, save lives.

You don’t need to look any further than Richmond to see this in action. Virginia received more than $39 million from the Trump administration as part of the State Opioid Response Grants, and as part of last week’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Overdose Data to Action cooperative agreement, Virginia will receive an additional $4.6 million. Counties and cities are utilizing this and working hard to combat the crisis.

The Virginia State Health Commissioner has allowed Virginians to receive naloxone at pharmacies without a prescription. Additionally, many localities host trainings for “REVIVE!” a program teaching people how to recognize and respond to opioid overdoses with naloxone; several health departments in the Richmond area provide naloxone for free to those who can’t afford it.

In a first, the Richmond region launched a website (www.opioid solutionsrva.com) and media campaign to emphasize risks associated with opioid use and to connect those struggling with addiction to information, treatment and resources. Additionally, the Richmond Ambulance Authority, the Richmond Police Department and the Richmond City Health District have formed “First Responders for Recovery.”

Through this program, first responders connect someone who has had an overdose to a peer recovery specialist within 48 hours to offer guidance, resources and help getting to a treatment center.

These bold initiatives are helping to save lives in Richmond. The Trump administration will continue to look for new ways to support local efforts to combat the scourge of addiction.

Of course, our work still goes on, and if we continue with our relentless effort, together we will reverse the devastating effect that addiction has had on Virginia and America and, more importantly, we will save lives.

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Jim Carroll is the director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. Connect with the office on Twitter at @ONDCP.

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