President’s Update, Dec. ’20: FORE’s Year of Firsts in the Midst of a PandemicDecember 23, 2020
Leaders of many organizations have said the pandemic forced them to change how they’ve been working and find solutions to new problems in record time. As a new foundation, we had few institutional practices to revise. Our very first grants, supporting projects that enhance access to treatment including medications for opioid use disorder (MOUD), were announced March 12, just as states across the U.S. were announcing stay-at-home orders and closing schools and businesses. Within days, we put our original plan for 2020 on hold to hear from our new grantees about how the pandemic was reshaping opioid use disorder (OUD) treatment and recovery services.
Our Board and staff moved quickly to assess and respond to emerging needs while maintaining our focus on finding and supporting innovative solutions to the opioid crisis. We launched timely webinars that serve as a resource for those on the frontlines of delivering care and developed new directions for grant funding. In July and then again in October, we awarded COVID-19 response funding to existing and new grantees with two goals: 1) helping organizations implement new delivery models so that people could access virtual treatment and recovery services for OUD, and 2) learning from the crisis by studying the effects of changes — such as waiving the requirement for in-person visits before starting medication-based OUD treatment — to inform future policy and practice. We also began to share the results of these efforts, including through journal articles and grantee spotlights.
We’ve learned a great deal during a challenging year that seemed to bring out the best in many. I have been impressed by the commitment and ingenuity of our grantees, advisers, Board members, colleagues, and staff as they have sought to bolster OUD treatment and recovery services during the pandemic. I’ll just offer a few examples of the best practices and lessons they’ve shared through our series of webinars and publications:
- how to continue to provide MOUD to people in jails and prisons
- how opioid treatment programs can deliver methadone and offer telemedicine visits
- ways to overcome racial and ethnic disparities in accessing OUD treatment
- ways of deploying peers and navigators to help people stay in treatment and recovery
- how to design state and federal policies that help people maintain access to OUD treatment during the pandemic.
The reach achieved by many of our grantees has also been gratifying — a sign that providers are willing to step up to meet staggering demand for treatment. Nearly 1,200 physicians signed up for Get Waivered at Massachusetts General Hospital’s first virtual training to secure buprenorphine-prescribing waivers for emergency department (ED) physicians, with close to 800 completing the course. And 335 hospital EDs around the country have signed up to participate in the American College of Emergency Physicians’ quality improvement program to improve OUD-related care in EDs.
At the same time, many programs that serve and support people with OUD and at high-risk of overdose are overwhelmed. The demand for the programs that our grantees have created, including one to train peer recovery specialists and another that expands access to care through a digital mobile app, is remarkable. Ballad Health received 90 applications for 12 peer recovery specialist trainee positions, while the Addiction Policy Forum received 6,000 applications for 1,000 available subscriptions to its Connections app.
A provisional data alert released last week by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 81,000 overdose deaths for the year ending in May 2020, the highest number of overdose deaths ever recorded in a 12-month period. These troubling data suggest the demand for OUD services will continue to grow. We also expect demand to increase in regions of the country that were not part of the earlier waves of the opioid crisis.
FORE will continue to partner with innovative organizations that are able to reach diverse, high-risk populations, in keeping with our focus on health equity. As we move into the new year, we will also focus on the continuum of prevention, treatment, and recovery services with the goal of informing policies that can bring effective services to scale and sustain them. And we will continue to develop our work in consultation and partnership with a wide range of experts: in the past two months, we have convened advisory meetings on federal policy and on family- and community-based prevention. We also launched our Scientific Advisory Council, a group of nationally renowned leaders who will provide ongoing guidance to FORE’s Board and staff.
To all who have been part of this effort, and to those who will be joining us next year, we wish you a happy and healthy holiday. We hope the new year brings more opportunities to start bending the curve of the opioid crisis in this country.