New Jersey Rep. Gottheimer: Opioid epidemic worsening due to COVID-19

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U.S. Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.) warned that the opioid epidemic is worsening in New Jersey last week due to continued stressors brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gottheimer said that, according to the Office of New Jersey Coordinator for Addiction Responses and Enforcement Strategies, nearly 2,100 drug-related overdose deaths occurred in New Jersey between Jan. 1 and Aug. 31, compared to an estimated 3,021 for the entirety of 2019 and 3,006 for 2018.

The congressman said the pandemic is making the opioid epidemic worse, adding economic stress, anxiety, and depression brought on by isolation at home to existing stressors, which only increases substance and alcohol use.

A study by Recovery Village at Baptist Health found that 55 percent of Americans reported an increase in their alcohol consumption, and 36 percent reported an increase in illicit drug use. Of those reporting increased alcohol consumption, 18 percent said it was a significant increase.

According to the study, in the states hit hardest by the coronavirus – New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut – 67 percent reported an increase in alcohol consumption, and 25 reported that it was a significant increase.

“While we deal with this pandemic, the opioid epidemic is continuing to absolutely devastate families throughout Northern New Jersey and their stories are not being told. Today, we are here at the Center for Prevention’s Recovery Center to sound the alarm that the opioid epidemic is continuing to impact far too many families, and we must continue to fight it,” Gottheimer said. “Research has shown that economic stress, rising unemployment and the general upheaval we’ve experienced through this pandemic corresponds with rising rates of alcohol and drug use.”

Gottheimer said he voted for both versions of the House’s HEROS Act, which will provide federal grants to address substance use during the COVID-19 public health crisis and authorize the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to award investments into state and local substance-use efforts. The act would provide $8.5 billion for increased mental health and substance abuse services and support and an additional $600 million investment for Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics.

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