House committee investigates opioid abuse spike during pandemic

Washington D.C.

WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) – Opioid abuse has spiked during the COVID-19 pandemic.

More than 80,000 Americans died from drug overdoses from May 2019 to May 2020, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports as the country’s deadliest year for substance abuse.

The agency issued a warning in December about a “concerning acceleration” in drug overdose deaths with the largest increase recorded from March to May 2020 when the pandemic shut down the U.S.

On Wednesday, a House committee examined what Congress should do next.

“We’re in an addiction crisis during a Covid crisis,” said Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-CA. “Something isn’t working. We’re not making a dent in this.”

“We must protect Americans from these harmful drugs that ruin lives and families,” said Rep. Brett Guthrie, R-KY.

The acting director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, Regina LaBelle, told lawmakers the Biden administration wants to focus on improving treatment and recovery services for those most at-risk, along with better training for first responders and healthcare providers.

“Make sure that the programs the federal government is funding are effective,” LaBelle said.

Congress approved billions of dollars for substance abuse prevention and treatment in the Covid relief bills, but lawmakers are pushing for even more action.

“Regardless of a patient’s personal history or healthcare coverage, they deserve compassion and help just like any other patient with a diagnosable disease,” said Rep. Frank Pallone, D-NJ.

Pallone said about a dozen new bills would help accomplish the White House’s goals, but Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-WA, wants legislation to target the main driver of overdose deaths, fentanyl, and how Mexico and China contribute to its widespread use in the U.S.

“What can fit on Lincoln’s ear on a penny is lethal,” McMorris Rodgers said.

An order that would permanently classify fentanyl-related substances as Schedule I drugs is set to expire next month. LaBelle has asked Congress to extend the deadline but would not say if it would be temporary or permanent.

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