October 19, 2022

By Courtney Wise

Good morning, MindSite News readers. In this edition, we feature writer Julia Landau’s review of the book Undoing Drugs, whose author Maia Szalavitz makes a formidable case that embracing harm reduction could end the opioid overdose epidemic. A Minneapolis nonprofit is rapidly housing residents who are homeless with a program based on dignity and support. The psychedelics industry is lobbying U.S. insurers to cover mental health benefits involving psychedelics. And more.


Curbing the Overdose Epidemic: An Author’s Call to Drop Our Moralistic Blinders and Save Lives

Author Maia Szalavitz makes a formidable case that embracing harm reduction will help end the opioid overdose epidemic. In one chapter of her book Undoing Drugs, she profiles a legendary clinic in northern England operating, oddly enough, during the administration of Margaret Thatcher. There, people with heroin and cocaine problems could get doses of those drugs prescribed by a doctor. The program’s director, Dr. John Marks, had a detached, psychiatric view of addictions. Research on the clinic uncovered ancillary benefits to its approach, such as more stable employment and better overall health. Even more counterintuitively, the rate of new addictions seemed to drop as well.

That clinic is a long way from the United States, both physically and metaphorically. In 2019, when Szalavitz began work on Undoing Drugs, there were about 50,000 annual deaths in the U.S. attributed to opioids. Today deaths from drug overdose top 109,000 a year, with two-thirds of them coming from synthetic opioids. Our best hope for ending this deadly epidemic is through harm reduction, which in a broad sense includes medication for addiction treatment (MAT) coupled with therapy and behavioral strategies, rolling out needle exchanges. distributing opioid overdose reversal medications, replacing the stigma of drug addiction with empathy, and other evidence-based strategies.

Continue reading Julia Landau’s compelling review of Maia Szalavitz’s book here…


Minneapolis nonprofit promoting permanent homes, dignity for unhoused residents

Fabian Jones used to be without a home but finally landed an apartment earlier this year. It took him years to get there, and meanwhile, he “spent time at every shelter in Minneapolis.” Homeward Bound, the last place he stayed before moving into his apartment, is special, Jones told CNN. There, he said, people are treated like human beings. 

Located in the center of a large Native American community in Minneapolis, the shelter sets itself apart by upholding culturally specific practices, like smudging, to drive away negative energy. In addition to providing people a place away from the elements, Homeward Bound offers a range of support services, including physical and mental health resources and lockers to keep peoples’ material possessions secure.

Just having a safe place to store your stuff is a huge deal when you’re without shelter. “It’s hard being homeless every day,” Jones said. “You can’t take a day off or rest for a bit. You gotta eat, you gotta figure out where you’re going to sleep and shower. It’s a constant thing you’re doing in survival mode.”

Jones is just one of hundreds of unhoused people helped by Hennepin County since late 2020. That’s when the Homeward Bound shelter opened, thanks to an influx of federal pandemic funds. The county stands as a good example of a government working effectively—and swiftly—to address the issue of homelessness.

With a plan already in place to address homelessness, the county was able to drive 40 percent of COVID dollars toward the effort. Funds helped hire 26 new social workers to assist the unhoused move permanent housing and created safe places for people to go by opening three emergency shelters, upgrading several existing shelters, and purchasing five properties that will soon be converted into affordable housing. In addition, Hennepin County is helping to finance 16 private housing developments.

In related news: Read and watch a video about how a California health center links unhoused patients with online therapists in Los Angeles County.

Will health insurance cover your psychedelic trip?

Probably not too soon, but advocates are optimistic about the possibility. According to Bloomberg News, the psychedelics industry is actively lobbying US health insurers to cover mental health benefits involving psychedelics. The primary argument seems to rest on the fact that although mental health spending is great—at roughly $200 billion per year—the money is largely put toward treatments that work slowly. But psychedelics paired with talk therapy appear to move patients toward remission in certain conditions faster than, say, SSRI antidepressants paired with talk therapy, according to the industry and some researchers. For example, psilocybin and MDMA show promise in clinical trials on hard-to-treat conditions like severe depression and PTSD.

via Twitter

“Every payor is looking for mental-health solutions,” said Michael Mullette, chief operations officer at the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS). “They are extremely encouraged by our data,” he said. But encouragement is not a guarantee. While private insurers are listening to pitches from the psychedelics industry, they’re sure to be interested in whether or not the therapies being developed are cost- effective—and how interested the FDA is in approving the drugs for therapeutic use. 

But it’s about more than just saving money on mental health treatments, said Wendy Warring, CEO of the Network for Excellence in Health Innovation. It’s also about ensuring that psychedelic mental health treatments are accessible to all Americans, regardless of their backgrounds. “We’re a very white audience here,” she said at the Horizons: Perspectives on Psychedelics conference last week in New York. “If we want to improve health equity, we have to do this.”

In other news … 

It may come as a surprise, but you can now buy hearing aids over the counter. That’s gratifying news, especially as several studies found a link between hearing loss and poorer mental health and psychosocial health, according to NBC News

A steady diet of terrible news is bad for your mental health. That’s the finding of Joaquim Radua, a psychiatrist based in Spain, who told NBC News that his recent study found “the best predictor for having lower anxiety and depressive symptoms was to avoid watching too much [bad] news.” It’s one reason that, even though not all the news we share in this newsletter is good, we try to be intentional about balancing painful news with solution-oriented journalism and hope.

The Biden Administration is actively seeking applications from states to expand the country’s network of community mental health centers, according to United Press International.  Up to 15 states will be awarded $1 million grants to develop new clinics in their region. The effort will kick off a plan that expects to see 10 more states follow the first 15 in developing behavioral health clinics every two years.

Ten weeks ago, mental health workers at Kaiser Permanente went on strike, but the union has reached a new tentative agreement with the health system, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. Though details of the settlement have not yet been made public, a joint statement from Kaiser and the National Union of Healthcare Workers said that “the new four-year agreement will benefit Kaiser Perrmanente patients.”

If you or someone you know is in crisis or experiencing suicidal thoughts, call or text 988 to reach the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline and connect in English or Spanish. If you’re a veteran press 1. If you’re deaf or hard of hearing dial 711, then 988. Services are free and available 24/7.

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Courtney Wise

Courtney Wise Randolph is a writer and creative based in Detroit, Michigan.