The Fight to End the Nation’s Overdose Epidemic: Profiles in Leadership

Health Highlights

In 2021, drug-related overdose deaths topped 107,000.1 Despite a nearly 50% decrease in opioid prescribing over the past decade, drug overdose mortality continues to trend in the wrong direction.2 Of particular concern is that the increase in drug-related deaths is occurring disproportionately among youth and among people who are Black, American Indian and/or Native Alaskan.3 Patients with pain continue to suffer from restrictions on access to legitimate pain care options, including opioid analgesics as well as non-opioid modalities. And while naloxone has saved tens of thousands of lives, it is clear that greater access to harm reduction initiatives must include more than only naloxone.

In the face of these devastating data, the nation needs to redouble its efforts to reduce the death and destruction arising from these issues and offer evidence-based treatment and action to all who need them. In the latest report in a series charting the path forward—The Fight to End the Nation’s Overdose Epidemic and Restore Compassionate Care: Profiles in Leadership—the American Medical Association (AMA) and Manatt Health highlight the work of more than 25 practicing physicians, policymakers, dedicated researchers and advocates who are taking concrete action across one or more of the domains we identified as critical to addressing the opioid epidemic. (To download your free copy of the report, click here. To view our free companion webinar on demand, click here.)

It is important to remember that these leaders represent a much larger group of physicians and others taking action. Most of them work daily in their practices; behind the scenes in state agencies; in universities, jails and prisons, hospitals, and clinics; and on the streets. Some strategically use their clinical expertise, academic leadership and public advocacy to address the stigma and myths that still complicate our nation’s response to the epidemic. Fueled by a fierce determination to upend the status quo and stem the tide of drug-related overdose deaths and destruction, all of them are making a dramatic difference in the lives of Americans. All are extraordinary leaders. We hope their stories will inspire others to join the fight to advance proven policies, illuminate the path forward and help heal the scars in communities across the nation. The leaders we are honored to highlight include:

AMA substance use and pain care task force

AMA substance use and pain care task force: Changing the narrative from punishment to compassionate care

  • Profile of Patrice A. Harris, MD, MA, and Bobby Mukkamala, MD

Increase access to evidence-based treatments to help patients with a substance use disorder (SUD)

Delivering compassionate care for pregnant people with an SUD

  • Profile of Ruchi Fitzgerald, MD

Building bridges, reducing stigma, copying best practices

  • Profile of former California policymaker Kelly Pfeifer, MD

Supporting evidence-based treatment for pregnant people

  • Profile of Carolyn Sufrin, MD, PhD

Mobilizing to help children, adolescents and young adults

  • Profile of Sharon Levy, MD, MPH, Deepa Camenga, MD, MHS, FAAP, and Christine Rodriguez, MPH

Ensure access to addiction medicine, psychiatry, and other trained physicians

Ending the epidemic means more than just one policy

  • Profile of Charles Reznikoff, MD, and Stephen Taylor, MD, MPH

Training future addiction medicine leaders

  • Profile of Cara Poland, MD, MEd, FACP, DFASAM

Expanding access to treatment through telehealth

  • Profile of Lewei Allison Lin, MD, MS

Enforce mental health and substance use disorder (SUD) parity law

Enforcing mental health and SUD parity laws: Tenacious trio transforming the parity landscape

  • Profile of Jane Beyer, JD, Kathryn Dzurec, JD, and Erica Weyhenmeyer

Enforcing parity, expanding treatment networks

  • Profile of Colorado Insurance Commissioner Mike Conway, JD, and Colorado Chief Deputy Commissioner Kate Harris

Improve access to multidisciplinary, multimodal care for patients with pain

Providing individualized pain care

  • Profile of Chad Kollas, MD, and Steven Stanos, DO

Removing stigma from pain treatment

  • Profile of Rita Agarwal, MD, Edwin C. Chapman, MD, and Cara Sedney, MD, MA

Expand harm reduction efforts to reduce death and disease

Saving lives with naloxone

  • Profile of Nabarun Dasgupta, MPH, PhD

Streamlining access to naloxone in the ED

  • Profile of Don Stader, MD

Improve public health data surveillance, monitoring and evaluation

Documenting effective interventions spurs equitable care

  • Profile of Professor Ricky Bluthenthal, PhD

Maine’s all-of-the-above efforts

  • Profile of Gordon Smith, JD

The report is the third in the AMA’s and Manatt’s series on how to fight the nation’s drug overdose epidemic. In December 2020, the AMA and Manatt Health released a national policy roadmap with detailed recommendations for policymakers. In 2022, we released a more comprehensive state toolkit that expanded on the initial recommendations by describing specific tools and strategies for making progress across six major areas:

  1. Increase access to evidence-based treatments to help patients with a substance use disorder (SUD).
  2. Ensure access to addiction medicine, psychiatry and other trained physicians.
  3. Enforce mental health and SUD parity laws.
  4. Improve access to multidisciplinary, multimodal care for patients with pain.
  5. Expand harm reduction efforts to reduce death and disease.
  6. Improve public health data surveillance, monitoring and evaluation.

1 Ahmad, F.B., Cisewski, J.A., Rossen, L.M., Sutton, P. “Provisional drug overdose death counts.” National Center for Health Statistics. 2022. Available at:

2 IQVIA Xponent limited to retail pharmacy-dispensed prescriptions. State-by-state comparison available at Definition: USC 78312 Opioid Reversal Agents (naloxone) and USC 78340 Drug Dependence (buprenorphine and buprenorphine/naloxone), excludes buprenorphine indicated for pain management (USC 02200).

3 Kariisa, M., Davis, N.L., Kumar, S., et al. “Vital Signs: Drug Overdose Deaths, by Selected Sociodemographic and Social Determinants of Health Characteristics—25 States and the District of Columbia, 2019–2020.” Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. July 22, 2022. Available at:



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