Addictions, Drug & Alcohol Institute

Front Lines of the Fentanyl Crisis: Dr. Caleb Banta-Green testifies to U.S. Senate Finance Committee, Fatal Overdose Reduction Act Introduced

Caleb Banta-Green

ADAI Research Professor, Caleb Banta-Green, PhD, MPH, MSW, Director of the Center for Community-Engaged Drug Education, Epidemiology and Research (CEDEER), flew to Washington D.C. this week to testify in front of the U.S. Senate Finance Committee for a special hearing titled “Front Lines of the Fentanyl Crisis: Supporting Communities and Combating Addiction through Prevention and Treatment.”

The hearing, led by Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Mike Crapo (R-ID), was focused on ways to support prevention and treatment interventions targeting both youth and adults to address the fentanyl and overdose crisis across the U.S.

In addition to Dr. Banta-Green, witnesses included Tony Vezina (4th Dimension Recovery Center), who spoke about the vital importance of youth prevention and treatment in schools (as well as sharing his own lived experience), Abigail Herron, DO (Institute for Family Health), who talked about investing in the behavioral health workforce and the importance of integrated care models, and Jeanmarie Perrone, MD (University of Pennsylvania), who focused on the important role of telehealth in expanding access to treatment medications and related care.

Dr. Banta-Green’s testimony focused on his work in Washington State to develop and test new models of care based on the real and stated needs of people who use drugs, 80% of whom report that want to stop or reduce their use. “We need to make it easier to access treatment medications than it is to access fentanyl,” Dr. Banta-Green told the committee.

One new approach combines a low-barrier clinical model with community-based access points and a team-based model of care that helps people start and stay engaged in treatment. Community-based health hubs for people who use drugs are showing positive outcomes, including in Dr. Banta-Green’s research with six rural and urban communities across Washington State where he and his team found significant increases in buprenorphine use and an astonishing 68% reduction in fatal overdoses.

As one of the program’s clients, an older unhoused woman with long-time opioid use disorder, told community staff: “I’ve been in and out of treatment throughout my life and you are the first people to treat me well. So I keep coming back and I’ve brought my friends.”

Dr. Banta-Green also answered questions about issues related to stigma, ways in which community-based health hubs save money on a variety of levels, differences between heroin and fentanyl that are making this such an urgent issue for youth in particular, and how these new community hubs are making both jails and emergency departments much more willing to start people on medications for opioid use disorder, knowing they will have community supports for continuing care when they’re discharged.

Watch the complete hearing | Read Dr. Banta-Green’s testimony

Fatal Overdose Reduction Act Introduced

The day after Dr. Banta-Green’s testimony, U.S. Sens. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and Bill Cassidy, R-La., introduced a bipartisan bill, the Fatal Overdose Reduction Act, which would expand Dr. Banta-Green’s Health Engagement Hub model, the low-barrier opioid treatment program described above, nationwide.

Updated May 30, 2024: The Seattle Times editorial board published an op-ed urging bipartisan support of the bill, arguing, “Now is the time to put even more focus on the problem locally and nationally. Washington and other states have introduced innovative programs to address the crisis. A national approach based on sound research is indeed needed.”