On March 9, Michigan United hosted “Overdose Crisis Listening Session and Artful Share-Out.” The event brought together multiple West Michigan organizations: Kalamazoo Open Doors, West Michigan YWCA, The Red Project and Sanford Recovery House. Unified HIV Health and Beyond, Public Health Awakened and other independent social workers also participated.
The panel featured a presentation on the war on drugs by Michigan United facilitator Cathy Phason that included her personal impact story and what inspired them to organize around addiction and substance abuse disorders. Writer in recovery Alec Juarez read a memoir on addiction written after an overdose in February 2021. The Grand Rapids artist also shared a new collection of poems on sobriety and self-discovery including “Dialogues Between Pelican and Bear” and “Migration.” Lansing musician Madeline Smith performed her testimony through a live song “Venus Fly Trap.” Finally, the audience emailed, tweeted, and called their representatives to pass the MAT (Mainstreaming Addiction Treatment) Act.
The United States is facing an overdose crisis. In 2020, at least 100,000 people died from preventable overdoses in the U.S. That’s a 40% increase, and the worst year in recorded history. The war on drugs created this crisis and pharmaceutical and insurance corporations have since amplified it to a catastrophe. The Mainstreaming Addiction Act of 2021, HR 1384, offers new hope. Scientific studies show that medication-assisted treatment is one of the most effective treatments for opioid use disorder and prevents overdose deaths. But as of now, health care providers are required to seek a separate waiver to prescribe buprenorphine (a form of MAT) for the treatment of opioid use disorder. Blocking access to this treatment will cost lives and increase racial disparities in health care outcomes.
The MAT Act, which has bipartisan support in both the U.S. House and Senate, would eliminate the current cumbersome requirements for a separate waiver. To effectively respond to the urgency of the overdose epidemic, we need to eliminate barriers that prevent health care practitioners from providing evidence-based treatment for substance use disorders.
The legislation would eliminate the DATA 2000 Waiver requirement that discourages practitioners from integrating treatment in their practices and perpetuates stigma against patients who would benefit from buprenorphine treatment. If passed, it would provide health care workers and patients with treatment options based on science, not stigma, and deliver pathways toward recovery, not criminalization.
An attending nurse on March 9 gave feedback after the event saying, “I showed up to learn and listen to better understand personal and lived experiences with addiction. I have cared for clients who overdosed before, during and after. This session helped me be more sensitive to my clients and people struggling with addiction and know what the next steps are.”
Health care and West Michigan organizer