Senators urge DEA to prioritize opioid epidemic

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A bipartisan group of four U.S. senators recently sent a letter to Timothy Shea, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency acting director, urging the agency to prioritize the opioid epidemic during the coronavirus pandemic.

The methods used to stop the spread of COVID-19 are making it more difficult to fight the opioid epidemic, the senators said. These challenges include making inpatient and outpatient treatment more difficult to obtain and weakening recovering addicts support networks by placing restrictions on gathering with family and friends.

“In light of the challenges those with an opioid addiction face, the federal government must remain vigilant in its fight against this epidemic,” the letter said. “We recognize that COVID-19 has created unique challenges to your ability to enforce our nation’s controlled substances laws, and prevent the diversion of opioids and distribution of illicit fentanyl and synthetic drugs.”

The letter, signed by U.S. Sens. John Cornyn (R-TX), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Joe Manchin (D-WV), and Thom Tillis (R-NC), asks Shea to answer how the pandemic has impacted the agency’s enforcement responsibilities; how the agency has adjusted to address prescription opioids, illicit fentanyl, and synthetic drugs; if the agency can provide statistics comparing its workload now to before the pandemic; and what legal authority or financial assistance Congress can provide.

Shea has been asked to respond by Oct. 2.

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