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Legislative
Priorities 2023

Priority 1: Implementing the Recommendations of the Substance Use Recovery Services Advisory Committee

In 2021, the legislature passed SB 5476 in response to the State v. Blake decision. That bill created the Substance Use Recovery Services Advisory Committee (SURSAC) to make recommendations related to substance use disorder outreach, treatment, and recovery. Those recommendations are reflected in SB 5624. The SURSAC recommendations are based on significant stakeholder work and expertise and should be included in any Blake response that the legislature advances. SB 5624 would also remove drug possession for personal use from the criminal code and instead treat illicit substance use through the behavioral health system. At this time, SB 5624 did not make it out of committee whereas SB 5536 is the only Blake bill advancing in the legislature. SB 5536 would increase the criminalization of people with substance use disorders. The WRA opposes the criminalization of symptoms of a brain disease when persons or property are not otherwise harmed. Incarceration for drug possession rarely prompts behavior change, in part because one of the diagnostic criteria for substance use disorder is continued use despite negative consequences. We know that when we provide people in active addiction hope and meaningful help, rapid access to quality treatment, and wraparound recovery support services, recovery is not only possible, but probable. For these reasons, we ask that you support proposed substitutes to SB 5536 to replace the content there to instead include each of the 18 SURSAC policy recommendations in addition to removing personal drug possession from the legal system. 

Priority 2: Include Recovery Support Services in Opioid Settlement Expenditures

The substance use disorder continuum of care has four parts: prevention, outreach, treatment, and recovery. That last component, recovery support services, refers to the suite of services that help keep the disease of addiction in remission. These include: recovery housing, employment and education pathways, collegiate recovery programs, Recovery Cafes, recovery coaching and peer services, and support for family members impacted by addiction. Investing in recovery support services will help preserve the state’s investment in treatment by promoting long-term recovery and averting high-cost emergency services and criminal legal system involvement that result from a return to use. It is infinitely easier to help a person stay in recovery than get into recovery. 

The Governor’s opioid settlement funding proposal includes no funding for recovery support services. Substance use disorder is a chronic disease that requires long-term care. Investments in outreach and treatment will be futile if recovery support services are not there to help people maintain their recovery. We implore lawmakers to ensure that opioid settlement funding is used to support life-saving recovery programs. 

We’re always looking at what comes next, but we know it’s important to celebrate our accomplishments, too.

We are proud of our advocates for helping drive these policy advocacy wins:

2016: Lead architect of and advocacy org behind Ricky’s Law to create a crisis treatment system for youth and adults with life-threatening addiction, one of the largest single investments in addiction treatment in state history.

2017: Successfully advocated for $26 million in state funding to extend inpatient substance use disorder treatment stays beyond 15 days for clients receiving Medicaid.

2018: Helped pass HB 1524, to allow Criminal Justice Treatment Account funds to be used to fund recovery support services, including housing.

2019: Lead architects of and advocacy org behind two major pieces of legislation, HB 1528 and HB 1907. HB 1528 massively expands the quality and quantity of recovery housing in WA. This is critical for people discharging from treatment and correctional settings, who are frequently released to homelessness. The WRA also secured $1 million of operating budget funds for recovery housing vouchers and $1 million in capital budget funds for recovery housing facility improvements. HB 1907 tears down two major barriers to people in recovery entering the behavioral health workforce as certified peer counselors–(1) it removes employment prohibitions for crimes common among people with a history of addiction and (2) it disallows mandatory enrollment in a punitive and discriminatory addiction monitoring program for people who are already in long-term recovery.

2020: Lead architects and advocacy org behind HB 2642. The WRA took on the insurance lobby and was able to secure unanimous passage of this legislation to allow same day access to detox and inpatient addiction treatment. The bill prohibits both commercial and Medicaid health carriers from requiring burdensome pre-authorization requirements for inpatient care, which delay treatment by weeks or months. The bill recognizes that if we fail to provide people treatment when they’re ready for help, we may never have a second chance and that when we do provide people with access to quality care in their window of willingness, people recover.

2021: The WRA helped pass SB 5195 which makes strides to address the epidemic of opioid overdoses here in Washington by increasing immediate access to naloxone, a life-saving overdose reversal drug, to decrease the risk of long-term health effects of overdose and overdose fatalities. Additionally, the WRA re-imagined a behavioral health system that better responds to crisis and were successful when HB 1477 passed; it was the response system using 988 as a mechanism for mobile crisis responders. It 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.

2022: The WRA helped pass a Medicaid reimbursement rate increase that allows community behavioral health agencies to retain and recruit more experienced providers by increasing their pay. Additionally, the WRA contributed to HB 1905, which reduced homelessness for youth discharging from publicly funded care, and HB 1860, which prevented homelessness for people discharging from inpatient behavioral health settings.

For any questions about the policy priorities listed here,

please contact the Washington Recovery Alliance Director of Advocacy and Programs, Tristan Seikel.

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