In 2018, the number of Americans who lost their lives to a drug overdose declined for the first time in almost thirty years. Partnering with rural stakeholders like the American Farm Bureau Federation and the National Association of Counties, the Trump Administration is proud of the progress that we’ve made to support rural communities impacted by this disease and yet we know that we cannot let up.   

Today, the public health threat posed by COVID-19, along with the essential mitigation measures being implemented across the country to slow the spread, together create unprecedented obstacles for Americans seeking drug treatment. We must act boldly and creatively to ensure our nation, specifically in rural America, continues to make progress.

Isaiah House, based in Willisburg, Kentucky, is one of the many facilities across the country that is adjusting to the effects of the coronavirus. This is a full-service treatment organization that serves hundreds of men and women who are overcoming an addiction to drugs or alcohol. In the midst of this pandemic, Isaiah House is continuing to provide life-saving care and community for its clients through telehealth and virtual platform technology. Isaiah House has also implemented the use of personal protective equipment, social distancing, and sanitation protocols in its residential facilities.

While staffing shortages, lack of equipment for virtual care, and lost revenue make providing these services a daunting task, Isaiah House and others are continuing to shoulder this vital responsibility for rebuilding lives in rural Kentucky and across the country.

Sadly, millions of rural Americans with a substance abuse disorder are particularly vulnerable to relapse and infection during the pandemic. Recognizing this reality, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) has been working alongside our nation’s governors, partner organizations, and local officials on the frontlines, to do all that we can to help rural communities remain strong, healthy, and drug-free.

President Trump has deployed an all-of-government approach in protecting the health and safety of rural America. The Federal Communications Commission and the Department of Agriculture are working to ensure that rural communities have the broadband service and equipment needed for telehealth. The Health Resources and Services Administration is at work supporting rural health centers with additional funding to provide care during the pandemic. And, the Small Business Administration is coming alongside rural small businesses with funding to keep their workforce employed during the pandemic.   

To ensure access to care, we have given priority to identifying and addressing those federal laws and regulations that may pose unnecessary obstacles to individuals seeking treatment, are currently in treatment, or are recovering from a substance use disorder. President Trump recognizes that “cutting through the red tape” during the COVID-19 pandemic is imperative to reducing the adverse impacts of this virus on all our lives, especially those within this vulnerable population. 

With this commitment to flexibility, we are greatly expanding telehealth options for treatment and reducing requirements to perform in-person physical evaluations for patients seeking treatment. At the same time, for essential in-person clinical settings, we are implementing adequate distance requirements between providers and their patients to keep everyone safe. 

During this national emergency, we are granting blanket state-level exceptions for stable patients to receive take-home doses of medication for opioid use disorder. In addition, our federal partners have issued exemptions for allowing alternate delivery methods of opioid treatment medications. New guidance is continually being issued as states and private providers raise new issues in maintaining continuity of care.

Each of these actions will be especially beneficial to people living in rural communities. But we know there is still much work to be done.  

Under the President’s leadership, we will continue to take any and all necessary steps to protect the lives of the American people and all those in rural areas who are fighting their own battle against the disease of drug addiction.

In towns large and small, we have made enormous strides in addressing our nation’s addiction crisis over the past three years. We cannot – and will not – let that progress be yet another victim of the COVID-19 pandemic.

About the author: James W. “Jim” Carroll is the Director of National Drug Control Policy in the Executive Office of the President. Prior to joining the Office of National Drug Control Policy, he served as Assistant to the President and Deputy Chief of Staff at the White House. Previously in the Administration, Mr. Carroll served as General Counsel of the Office of Management and Budget and as Deputy Assistant and Senior Counsel to the President. Before joining the Trump Administration, Mr. Carroll served as Washington Counsel at the Ford Motor Company and as General Counsel of the Ford Motor Company Fund, the company’s philanthropic arm that supports non-profit organizations and initiatives.