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Bipartisan Committee Leaders Request Information on COVID-19’s Impact on Addiction & Overdose Crisis

Aug 11, 2020
Press Release

Bipartisan Energy and Commerce Committee leaders today sent a letter to Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar addressing concerns that the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the ongoing substance use disorder (SUD) and overdose crisis in the United States, which the country has been battling for decades.  The bipartisan leaders requested a briefing on the latest trends in substance use and overdoses, how those trends are affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, and what more the federal government needs to do to address this growing crisis.  

The letter to Azar was signed by Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ), Ranking Member Greg Walden (R-OR), Health Subcommittee Chairwoman Anna G. Eshoo (D-CA), Ranking Member Michael C. Burgess, M.D. (R-TX), Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chair Diana DeGette (D-CO), and Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Ranking Member Brett Guthrie (R-KY). 

“While we continue to fight the COVID-19 crisis, we cannot lose sight of another:  the ongoing substance use disorder (SUD) and overdose crisis that our country has been battling for decades,” the bipartisan Committee leaders wrote.  “Since 1999, over 750,000 Americans have died from drug overdoses, representing the worst drug crisis in American history, and we are concerned that overdose deaths are increasing while attention is focused on COVID-19.”

In 2018, the number of fatal drug overdoses decreased for the first time in over two decades, but last year, overdose deaths increased to an all-time high.  Now, recently reported increases in overdose deaths during the COVID-19 pandemic threaten to exacerbate these trends.  According to the Washington Post, data indicate that, compared to the year before, suspected overdoses nationwide increased 18 percent in March, 29 percent in April, and 42 percent in May.  The COVID-19 pandemic has led to more Americans suffering from depression and economic hardship, as people continue to isolate and often are unable to seek the necessary treatment.  Dr. Nora Volkow, Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse at the National Institutes of Health, recently stated, “that the support systems that were there to actually help them achieve recovery are no longer present.  At the same time, access to some of the treatment programs has become much harder to get by and that actually includes emergency departments.” 

 “The world’s public health experts, governments, and industries are focused on the COVID-19 pandemic – and that work continues, but we must not become complacent about other threats that our country faces, nor allow the progress we have made to become undone,” the Committee leaders continued in their letter to Azar.

The Energy and Commerce Committee has a long history of oversight and legislation focused on SUD and the overdose crisis in the United States.  The Committee championed multiple legislative efforts that became law, including the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA) and the Substance Use-Disorder Prevention that Promotes Opioid Recovery and Treatment (SUPPORT) for Patients and Communities Act.  The Committee also held hearings on efforts to combat the illicit spread of fentanyl and led bipartisan investigations into numerous facets of the opioid epidemic, including opioid distribution and manufacturing as well as the substance use disorder treatment industry.  Additionally, the Committee sent a bipartisan letter in January 2020 about the alarming increase in use of stimulants in the United States.

To read the full letter, click HERE