New York, NY/USA - 08.31.2018: Overdose Awareness March.

Advancing a Public Health-Promoting National Opioid Policy

Register to attend “Addressing the Overdose Epidemic: Substance Use Policy for the Biden Administration” on March 24th.

By Jennifer D. Oliva & Kelly K. Dineen

“America’s drug regime is a monstrous, incoherent mess.”
– Dr. Carl L. Hart, Drug Use for Grown-Ups: Chasing Liberty in the Land of Fear (2021)

By any measure, American drug policy is an ineffective and costly failure.

The U.S. drug policy regime’s defining quality is its persistent adherence to the same approaches in the face of overwhelming evidence that they are unsuccessful, including supply-side tactics, fear mongering, and misinformation dissemination. These policies are racist by design and their myriad, negative impacts are disproportionately borne by marginalized and stigmatized communities.

The “war on drugs” and its repeated loop of lost battles have earned the nation the highest incarceration rate in the world, fomented a number of serious health issues related to drug use, and fueled a drug overdose and suicide crisis. Our shape-shifting overdose crisis recently claimed the highest number of overdose deaths ever recorded during a twelve-month period in American history.

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New York, NY/USA - 08.31.2018: Overdose Awareness March

Bold Steps Needed to Correct Course in US Drug Policies

By Leo Beletsky, Dan Werb, Ayden Scheim, Jeanette Bowles, David Lucas, Nazlee Maghsoudi, and Akwasi Owusu-Bempah

The accelerating trajectory of the overdose crisis is an indictment of the legal and policy interventions deployed to address it. Indeed, at the same time as the U.S. has pursued some of the most draconian drug policies in the world, it has experienced one of the worst drug crises in its history.

The legal and institutional system of U.S. drug control remains defined by its racist, xenophobic, and colonialist roots. It is no surprise, then, that current policy approaches to drug use have amplified inequities across minoritized and economically marginalized Americans. Reliance on the criminal-legal system and supply-side interventions have disproportionately devastated Black and brown communities, while failing to prevent drug-related harms on the population level.

The Biden-Harris Administration has an unprecedented opportunity to chart a different path. The priorities for the Administration’s approach should flow directly from its stated principles: emphasis on scientific evidence and a focus on equity.

The following key areas require immediate, bold, and evidence-grounded action.

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NEW YORK, NEW YORK - JUNE 06, 2020: A health care professional kneels in protest in New York City as part of the movement, 'White Coats for Black Lives,' during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Scope Creep: Serving Many Roles, Health Care Providers Need a Supporting Cast

By Christian Rose

During the COVID-19 pandemic, physicians and nurses have found themselves on the frontlines of more than just medical care, advocating for their patients, their families, and themselves. Facing overwhelm and burnout at a scale hitherto unimagined, they continue to fulfill their ethical obligations to their communities and their patients. If they don’t, who will?

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Oxygen mask as part of artificial lungs ventilation machine in surgery room, closeup.

Pandemic Highlights Need for Quality and Equity in End-of-Life Care

By Elizabeth Clayborne

I was a little less than six months pregnant when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020. As an Emergency Physician, I am well aware of additional risks that my job often exposes me to on a daily basis. We frequently face physical and emotional strife from unstable psychiatric patients, critically ill nursing home residents, sexual assault victims, and newly diagnosed cancer patients.

People who work in an emergency department tend to understand what comes with the territory: a lot of hard work, unexpected outcomes, and daily traverses of the human experience, from the best emotions you can imagine, to lowest depths of human despair. This is what accompanies caring for every ailment for people from all walks of life. I actually love this part about my job! I never know what I’m going to see when I walk through the doors.

That said, being a frontline physician during COVID-19 has provided me with a profoundly different lens on the pressures surrounding health care workers. And experiencing this while pregnant was pretty terrifying.

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New York City, New York / USA - May 2 2020: New York City healthcare workers during coronavirus outbreak in America.

Pandemic Threatens Future of Emergency Medical Services

By Benjamin Podsiadlo

The COVID-19 pandemic has posed persistent, wide-ranging existential threats to effective 911 emergency response.

The EMS (Emergency Medical Services) system, which sits at the intersection of emergency medicine and public safety, is the out-of-hospital component of the acute care health care system. The EMS mission is targeted at identifying, responding, assessing, treating, and entering suddenly ill and injured patients in the community into the health care system.

The EMS system’s viability is entirely dependent upon the capacity of its workforce of EMTs, paramedics, and 911 EMS telecommunicators to respond 24/7/365.

The devastating impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on EMS include: severe damage to workforce sustainability; grossly insufficient logistical resourcing; and further erosion of cohesive system identity.

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Healthcare workers carrying signs protest for improved Covid-19 testing and workplace safety policies outside of UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles,Dec. 9, 2020.

Beyond 20/20: The Post-COVID Future of Health Care

By Cynthia Orofo

There are two experiences I will never forget as a nurse: the first time I had to withdraw care from a patient and the first day working on a COVID ICU.

Both were unforgiving reminders that the ICU is a demanding place of work that will stress you in every way. But the latter experience was unique for a few particular reasons. Before the end of that first shift, I had overheard several staff members on the floor speak about their fears, thoughts of the unknown, and their version of the “new normal.” As I realized that life would almost certainly not be the same, I developed my own vision of the “new normal” of health care.

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Emergency department entrance.

Pandemic Lays Bare Shortcomings of Health Care Institutions

By Lauren Oshry

In 1982, when AIDS was first described, I was a first-year medical student in New York City, the epicenter of the epidemic in the U.S. To the usual fears of a medical student — fears of failing to understand, to learn, to perform — was the added fear of contracting a debilitating and universally fatal infection, for which there was no treatment. But our work felt urgent and valued, and the camaraderie among medical students and our mentors is now what I remember most.

Nearly forty years later, my experience as an attending oncologist during COVID-19 has been different. Yes, I am older and less naïve, but also this pandemic has been managed in fundamentally different ways. Aside from the obvious federal mismanagement, my own institution has deeply disappointed me. The institutional shortcomings we had long tolerated and adapted to were laid bare by the COVID-19 pandemic, and massively failed our patients and morally devastated those of us on the frontlines.

As a provider in a large safety net hospital, I care for a predominantly minority population in the lowest economic bracket. These would be the individuals disproportionately affected by COVID-19, with highest rates of infection and worse outcomes. My patients have the additional burden of cancer.

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NEW YORK, NEW YORK - APRIL 05: Emergency medical technician wearing protective gown and facial mask amid the coronavirus pandemic on April 5, 2020 in New York City.

Don’t Call Me a Hero: How to Meaningfully Support Health Care Workers

By Molly Levene

“Heroes Work Here.”

Sometimes those three short words make me angry; other times they make me cry.

I was one among thousands of EMTs and paramedics who were deployed to New York through FEMA last year. Having studied public health in school and worked in EMS for over a year, I thought I had seen the extent to which we fail patients; I believed myself disillusioned enough to be prepared for any injustice or chaos I might encounter.

But last April, I quickly learned I was wrong. And when you feel complicit in such deep structural dysfunction, it is incredibly difficult to feel heroic.

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LOMBARDIA, ITALY - FEBRUARY 26, 2020: Empty hospital field tent for the first AID, a mobile medical unit of red cross for patient with Corona Virus. Camp room for people infected with an epidemic.

The Fourth Wave of COVID-19: The Effects of Trauma on Health Care Workers

This post is the introduction to our newest digital symposium, In Their Own Words: COVID-19 and the Future of the Health Care Workforce. All contributions to the symposium will be available here.

By Stephen Wood

On this day one year ago, World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom declared COVID-19 a pandemic, sounding the alarm about the international threat posed by the virus.

Today, one year later, I fear the end is not in sight. In fact, I believe that we are on the precipice of a fourth wave.

The fourth wave will strike the people on the frontlines of this pandemic — health care workers. It will be the effects of the trauma that health care workers entrenched in this pandemic have faced. And it is likely to have significant and lasting effects on our health care system.

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