House opioid task force holds online forum regarding opioid epidemic, COVID-19

House opioid task force holds online forum regarding opioid epidemic, COVID-19

On Wednesday, the House Bipartisan Opioid Task Force held an online forum to discuss the dual crises of the opioid epidemic and COVID-19.

Hosted by Reps. Ann McLane Kuster (D-NH), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) and Donald Norcross (D-NJ), the 10-member task force met to hear from substance use disorder experts about the challenges stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic, and how those can lead to an increase in substance misuse.

“The COVID-19 pandemic knows no bounds and has impacted nearly every aspect of our society and daily life,” Kuster said. “While our efforts to physically distance and stay home have been necessary and saved lives, they have also made it more difficult for people who struggle with substance use disorder to access the care and support they need. In addition, the economic downturn and the stress people are feeling over the COVID-19 emergency have made these last few months especially challenging for people at risk of substance misuse… These conversations are ongoing and play a crucial role in identifying and implementing solutions.”

Bradley Stein, director of the National Institute of Health-funded Opioid Policy Tools and Information Center; Regina LaBelle, program director at the Addiction and Public Policy Initiative at the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law; and Michele Merritt, president and CEO of New Futures, testified before the task force.

“I am thankful to the Bipartisan Opioid Task Force for the opportunity to discuss this very important topic,” Stein said. “COVID will affect every dimension of the opioid crisis, just as it is affecting every aspect of public health. Whatever our policy approach, we must prepare to better respond to the increased demands on the system that appear imminent, while simultaneously being leveraged to learn from innovations to improve the system going forward.”

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the COVID-19 pandemic and the responses to it (such as stay-at-home orders and social distancing) will cause an increase in individuals experiencing depression, anxiety, trauma and grief in communities across the United States. Because of this, SAMHSA said there is an expected increase in the incidences of substance misuse.

In April, Kuster introduced legislation that would provide support for smaller organizations to continue outreach and education aimed at preventing substance misuse, as well as increased funding for telehealth services.