Our 2021 Advocacy Priorities: We Put Recovery First!
Thanks to your collective experience, knowledge, and ideas, we have identified four core policy priorities for legislative advocacy during the 2021 session that will help members of our community start their recovery journey, stay in recovery, and live their most fulfilling lives.
#1: Creating Dedicated New Revenue for Behavioral Health Services
We have seen the devastating effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on behavioral health across the state, and the country. We cannot afford to wait to add resources to our behavioral health system — the emergency is now, and it’s ongoing. We propose combining four different funding sources of NEW state revenue, totalling $66M/year, into one bill and dedicating all of it to behavioral health services:
- Close pharmaceutical warehouse distributor tax preference: this is the bill we worked on last year (HB 2734) to close a tax preference that is no longer needed and dedicate the funding to recovery support services.
- Levy an opioid impact fee, which is a per milligram fee charged to opioid manufacturers (e.g. Purdue Pharma) who sell opioids within WA’s borders. This bill was run last year as HB 2438 and did not pass.
- Double liquor license fees, which have not been increased in 30-40 years, depending on the fee.
- Close a microbrewery tax preference that is no longer needed.
All of this revenue would be earmarked for behavioral health services that are not currently funded, such as recovery housing, recovery coaching, outreach and engagement services for people experiencing homelessness or in custody of the criminal-legal system, and expanded mobile crisis services.
#2: Creating a Peer Credential
Peer support such as recovery coaching is extraordinarily effective at helping people in their recovery journeys. Currently in Washington State, a “certified peer counselor” is merely a certificate and not a formal credential from the Department of Health licensing someone to practice their profession and ensuring they follow ethical and legal regulations. Creating a peer credential is a critical component in addressing our behavioral health care provider shortage.
We propose to create a new peer counselor health profession and license in the state of Washington. This would:
- Help create equity with other licensed healthcare professionals like nurses and social workers
- Create uniform standards for peer services
- Create a career path and continuing education requirements that are peer-specific and peer-informed
- Allow people with private insurance to access peer services for the first time, in addition to those with Medicaid who currently have access
- Allow peers to be employed directly by hospitals, jails, and other locations that are not behavioral health agencies
- Allow the creation of a peer supervisor position so that peers are supervised by other peers
As our state moves toward rethinking emergency response to behavioral health crises, peers could potentially play a pivotal role as crisis responders. A peer credential would enable us to explore creating an additional enhancement to the credential as a behavioral health first responder.
#3: Giving Help, Not Handcuffs
When someone is facing a behavioral health disorder, we believe the appropriate intervention is help, not handcuffs. Substance use disorder is one of the only health conditions where you can be arrested merely for displaying the symptoms — for example, having drugs on your person or actively using drugs. At the same time, a key symptom for diagnosis of a substance use disorder is continued use despite negative consequences, which means traumatic repercussions such as jail generally don’t change the behavior.
When we say “giving help,” we’re advocating for:
- Meeting the person where they are: Removing drug possession from the criminal code and replacing it with rapid access to person-centered behavioral health services.
- Reducing the risk of COVID spread by reducing the number of people in group settings such as jails.
- Spending our resources on effective treatment and support services that create change instead of expensive criminal-legal proceedings that often add to behavioral health challenges.
Crimes committed because of a person’s substance use disorder such a drug dealing, burglary, and other property crimes would continue to be prosecuted. But in cases where the only victim is the drug user themselves, we can lead with a different response that treats behavioral health conditions like the health conditions they are: with healthcare first.
#4: Re-imagining Our Crisis Response System for Behavioral Health Emergencies
If you’ve ever called 911 for a behavioral health emergency, you know there are only two choices: police, or fire. We’re re-imagining a system where mobile crisis response for behavioral health emergencies is available to everyone when you call a 3-digit emergency number.
In July 2022 the FCC will implement the new 3-digit mental health emergency hotline, 988. That means right now in 2021 is our chance to create a new behavioral health crisis response. We’re proposing a system where calls are answered by highly trained crisis workers and dispatched by 988 for calls related to people in mental health distress, people under the influence, individuals experiencing homelessness, and other circumstances that require care but not the law.
There’s broad support among law enforcement officers for this change. They are frequently called upon to respond to behavioral health crises without the training, background, or service resources to successfully get people the help they need in that moment of crisis. They respond because they have to — there is no one else.
We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to do things differently. We’re advocating for re-imagining our crisis response system using 988 as a mechanism for mobile crisis responders. That includes funding crisis response adequately through a telecom fee similar to how we fund our current 911 services. A response system that centers the needs of people in crisis is a system that will save lives.