Witnesses at a Feb. 28 hearing on efforts to address the opioid epidemic emphasized the importance of federal investments in medical research, addressing workforce shortages, facilitating access to treatment, and the role of Medicaid in providing access to care, among other priorities.
The Senate Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Subcommittee convened the hearing, with Subcommittee Chair Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-Wash.) both highlighting the bipartisan investments of $9 billion that the subcommittee has provided in the spending bills over the last four years to combat the epidemic. Both also described some progress but acknowledged continued need and remaining challenges, including access to mental health services, strategies to keep physicians apprised of best practices, and new approaches to pain management.
Two of the witnesses testified about efforts at academic medical centers to prevent and treat opioid use disorder in their communities. Karen Cropsey, PsyD, Conaster Turner endowed professor of psychiatry, University of Alabama at Birmingham, described her 20 years of addiction research supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), including on opioid use disorders among disadvantaged populations and trials of buprenorphine treatment.
In addition to the need for continued research, Cropsey indicated, “Gaps in health care access across the state have left many of our most vulnerable citizens without access to health care. Alabama, like much of the country, has a provider shortage.”
Workforce shortages were a theme also echoed by James Berry, DO, associate professor and vice chair and director of addiction services in the department of behavioral medicine and psychiatry, West Virginia University.
Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) asked Berry, “Do we need more paraprofessionals? Do we need more residencies in addiction treatment? How do we solve this problem?” In response, Berry described the need to ensure practicing physicians and other health professionals are equipped to prevent, identify, and treat pain and addiction, while also cultivating the next generation of providers by expanding the workforce.
“We have a dire need to increase the workforce,” he stated. “We need to do what we can to increase residency training slots in addiction psychiatry [and] addiction medicine slots,” among other programs focused on recruiting and training health professionals in high need disciplines.