Jessica Nickel is President and CEO of the Addiction Policy Forum, a national nonprofit organization that is working to combat addiction. Nickel spoke with Interact for Health about ending the opioid epidemic.
Interact for Health: Could you explain more about the Addiction Policy Forum?
Jessica Nickel: At the Addiction Policy Forum, we raise awareness about addiction. We empower people, follow the science, and make sure that we are striving for new medications, new treatments, and better quality of care for all substance use disorders. Ultimately, our goal is to eliminate addiction as a major health problem in America.
Interact for Health: What lessons have you learned through your work?
Nickel: One of the chief lessons I have learned is we have to go beyond raising awareness and educating the public, and dispel the myths and misconceptions surrounding addiction. For example, 49% of Americans do not see addiction as a health condition. So we're starting at a place where we have to help break down and dispel the misinformation, and ensure accurate information is accessible to people who are grappling with this disease.
Interact for Health: Could you tell me a brief story that illustrates the effect of your work in the local community?
Nickel: A mother from Boston become involved with the Addiction Policy Forum after she lost her son to a drug overdose. We worked with the mother to turn her grief into real work. Last year, she told members of Congress how her son had had seven fatal overdoses reversed in local hospitals, but no one had engaged him in treatment or reached out to his primary care physician or family members. We submitted ideas about how Congress could address the problem nationwide. As a result, the SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act (HR 6) includes a provision to clarify HIPAA regulations regarding when providers can notify families and other health care providers of non-fatal overdoses so we don't miss those opportunities for intervention.
Interact for Health: What accomplishments of Addiction Policy Forum are you most proud of?
Nickel: I'm very proud of the 34,000 patients and families we helped last year. I'm proud of the legislation that we've worked on to build resources and better policies to address this issue. I'm proud of the families that we have brought into the fold to help us tackle these challenges, and the team we work with every day that is working to chart a new path.
Interact for Health: What about your work excites you most?
Nickel: For me, it's working with our patients and families every day. I've lost people close to me to this illness, and being able to work with other families who are dealing with addiction and patients who are in recovery is such an honor. It is a privilege to work side by side with such amazing people every day.
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