Letter: More specialists needed to conquer addictions

April 14, 2019

An estimated 20.7 million Americans age 12 or older needed treatment for substance use disorder in 2017, but only about 4 million of them received any form of treatment.

This gap will never be closed with the current addiction treatment workforce.

To make a meaningful impact on the current opioid overdose epidemic, and to stave off emerging addiction epidemics, it is imperative that our country make strategic investments to grow the ranks of trained and qualified addiction specialists.

Congress has an opportunity now to fund two new programs that would strengthen the addiction treatment workforce. First, Congress should appropriate $25 million in funding for the Loan Repayment Program for Substance Use Disorder Treatment Workforce. This would provide for a new and robust student loan repayment program to professionals who pursue full-time SUD treatment jobs in high-need geographic areas.

Second, Congress should appropriate $10 million for the Mental and Substance Use Disorder Workforce Training Demonstration Program authorized in the 21st Century CURES Act. This would fund more training opportunities for medical residents and fellows in psychiatry and addiction medicine, as well as nurse practitioners, physician assistants and others who are willing to provide SUD treatment in underserved communities.

I urge lawmakers to take the next step and appropriate federal funds for these programs. Building a robust SUD treatment workforce is critical and should be part of any comprehensive federal response to the opioid overdose epidemic. Otherwise, far too many patients will continue to not have access to care and more lives will be lost.

Rhonda Keith, Dover