AATOD has received reports from OTPs throughout the United States with regard to workforce shortages. This is especially true for physicians and other medical practitioners, in addition to nursing personnel and counseling positions. This workforce shortage has grown increasingly significant throughout the COVID-19 epidemic due to concerns about working in such healthcare environments. AATOD recommends that SAMHSA work in conjunction with DHHS, ONDCP and other federal agencies, to give individuals in the health profession the opportunity to work in OTPs to fulfill their obligations in loan forgiveness programs. This approach has been used with great success in other environments and should be used for opioid treatment programs. It is not possible to expand access to care unless we have a workforce that can meet the challenges of admitting more patients into the treatment system. It is also important to point out that personnel salaries and benefits also need to be competitive to attract and retain staff, in addition to expanding the use of recovery coaches as part of the OTP workforce.
Finally, the entire field has an opportunity to move forward and ensure that treatment is available to all people who would benefit from such care. We also work in a highly stigmatized environment, which can only be overcome by consistent education, especially when explaining to the American public why medications are used to treat opioid use disorder. Until a comprehensive education campaign is developed and sustained, we will not have broad public support when treating our patients. Such a campaign would include public service announcements in various media networks throughout the country in addition to developing the kind of campaign during President Reagan’s time in office but without the use of pejorative terms like “just say no.” This campaign would need to explain how people get into trouble with opioids whether it is an overuse of prescription opioids or moving on to heroin and fentanyl use. The campaign needs to include how the three primary FDA-approved medications to treat opioid use disorder are used, breaking through commonly perceived myths. This campaign should include individual stories of patient recovery through the use of medication-assisted treatment. Once again, it is important to balance the interest of increasing access to medication-assisted treatment to treat opioid use disorder without compromising the quality and integrity of services that are provided to the patients in treatment. These recommendations can only be achieved and sustained through a coordinated effort with federal agencies working together in addition to working with the State Alcohol and Drug Abuse Agencies and the State Opioid Treatment Authorities. The OTPs have an obligation to ensure the care they provide is informed and delivered by compassionate and knowledgeable personnel, whose sole interest is providing the best care possible to the patients, who put their trust in our ability to guide them on their path to recovery.