On April 14, 2021, Dr. Deanna Wilson, Assistant Professor of Medicine, provided testimony to the House Committee on Energy & Commerce’s hearing on “An Epidemic Within a Pandemic: Understanding Substance Use and Misuse in America.”

Dr. Wilson’s specialization in addiction medicine, experience teaching medical students and residents about addiction, and health equity research for populations with substance use disorder gave her a broad perspective on the issue.  That expertise led Dr. Hoover Adger, whom Dr. Wilson trained with during her fellowship at Johns Hopkins, to recommend her to Chairwoman Anna Eshoo for this panel.

Dr. Wilson’s testimony focused on rethinking how care is delivered, given the health inequities highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The three steps she outlined were to prioritize equity, increase treatment access, and increase our workforce’s capacity to treat addiction.

“I became a physician because I saw medicine as a tool for achieving social justice and building health equity,” said Dr. Wilson in a Twitter post about her testimony. “The racial and ethnic disparities in overdose rates reflect our failure to center the needs of Black and Latinx communities and address the systemic inequities, social inequalities, and structural racism that drive differential access and disparate treatment outcomes.” Her testimony called for a reimagining for how addiction treatment that would partner with community organizations and minimize barriers that prevent marginalized groups from being well-served.

She also spoke about the difficulties that arose accessing care during COVID-19 and how some of these ‘temporary’ solutions could benefit the future of addiction care: “We need legislation that permanently supports our ability to use telehealth, but we also need initiatives making telehealth more equitable, such as supporting digital literacy and improving access to broadband coverage,” said Dr. Wilson. Other pandemic-related flexibility, such as the increased ability to prescribe take-home doses of methadone, helped reduce barriers to treatment access. She encouraged further study on outcomes from this time period so we can remove onerous regulations and provide evidence-based treatment moving forward.

Her final call to action was the need to increase the capacity of the health provider workforce. She called for regulatory barriers, such as the “x-waiver” for prescribing buprenorphine, to be replaced with education in addiction medicine for all providers.

Overall, her message was centered around harm reduction, reducing barriers, and removing stigma related to care. Recording of the hearing and Dr. Wilson’s full written testimony are available on the Energy & Commerce website. The hearing was also covered by Daniel Moore in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

As part of the second panel of the hearing, Dr. Wilson was joined by four others sharing their testimonies: Geoffrey M. Laredo, Principal, Santa Cruz Strategies, LLC; Patricia L. Richman, National Sentencing and Resource Counsel, Federal Public and Community Defenders; Mark Vargo, Pennington County State’s Attorney, Legislative Committee Chairman, National District Attorneys Association; and Timothy Westlake, MD, FFSMB, FACEP, Emergency Department Medical Director, Pro Health Care Oconomowoc Memorial Hospital.