Better Know an Advocate: Interview with Erin Schanning
To better understand what made the MAT Act advocacy successful, we talked with Erin Schanning, President of End Substance Use Disorder, one of the key advocates in the pursuit of passing The MAT Act.
How did you get started in this work?
I lost my little brother Ethan about six years ago to an overdose. Ethan had doggedly pursued treatment for eight years before passing away. Our family didn’t even know about buprenorphine and how critical it is to preventing overdose and supporting recovery. Then I learned that a federal rule prevented health care providers from prescribing the medication—and I was passionate about removing that federal rule. I also learned there was already a bill in Congress that would do this, but it had stalled and needed additional momentum. We built an amazing coalition that helped push that forward.
How long did it take to get the MAT Act passed, and what did it take to achieve ultimate success?
It took 4 years for the MAT Act to pass from first introduction to being signed into law—over two congressional sessions. I think the turning point was bringing together a coalition of organizations to collaborate on strategy and advocacy on a daily basis. Once we did this, the MAT Act picked up a lot of awareness in Congress—and with the Biden-Harris Administration. So coming together really made a difference.
What keeps you motivated in your advocacy, and how do you keep from giving up or getting burned out?
On a personal level, I have to live with the reality every day that my family didn’t know about treatments that could have saved my brother’s life. Ethan should still be here with us and contributing to his community. I don’t want anyone else to face that tragedy. So that’s what keeps me going on a daily basis. In addition, I’m grateful to work with coalition members to end the overdose crisis and ensure universal access to treatment. Each coalition member is a leader who has passion and drive and it’s been an honor to work with such talented changemakers.
In your opinion, why does it take so long to pass even small measures that seem like common sense?
It takes constant and continuous engagement to move a bill through Congress. Nearly 10,000 bills are introduced every session and it’s not possible for Congressional staffers to develop expertise on all of them—so it takes time to educate each office about the problem and how the bill addresses it. They have very earnest questions about how it will impact their constituents and they need to get the right information to answer those questions.
But beyond education, we have to engage in frequent communication with the offices to ensure they both support the bill and promote it. With Congress passing so few bills these days, we have to constantly look for a path to bring it up for a vote in both the House and the Senate. In short, it takes an unrelenting drive and collaboration over an entire Congressional session to keep a bill moving forward. You can’t just reach out to the office once—you have to keep at it to get their support and to get them to pass these life-saving bills.
What are the next steps in the advocacy to increase access to buprenorphine, and what actions are especially needed from the HCH Community?
I think the most important action is to get the word out about buprenorphine. We need to encourage fellow health care providers and patients to use the medication. We can do that by sharing stories with our colleagues about our positive experiences with buprenorphine and by providing them with support as they start prescribing. Most of all, we have to communicate what a positive impact buprenorphine has on a patient’s well-being and to the provider’s satisfaction to treat patients.
Many thanks to Erin for her partnership and advocacy in the fight to expand addiction treatment!
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