Press Releases

Bipartisan Opioid Task Force Holds Virtual Discussion on Addressing COVID-19 and the Opioid Epidemic

Rep. Kuster during the roundtable discussion. Watch the roundtable here.

Today, the Bipartisan Opioid Task Force, led by Representatives Annie Kuster (NH-02), Brian Fitzpatrick (PA-01) and Donald Norcross (NJ-01), hosted a virtual discussion on addressing the dual crises of the COVID-19 pandemic and the opioid epidemic. Ten Members of the Task Force participated in the discussion, where they heard from substance use disorder experts about the challenges associated with the COVID-19 pandemic that can lead to an increase in substance misuse as Americans struggle with the current public health crisis and economic downturn. 

“The COVID-19 pandemic knows no bounds and has impacted nearly every aspect of our society and daily life,” said Kuster. “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. In April, I introduced legislation to help ensure Granite Staters struggling with substance use disorder can get the care they need, including telehealth options, and today’s discussion underscores the need for action on my proposal. These conversations are ongoing and play a crucial role in identifying and implementing solutions. I will continue working to support those who are living with substance use disorder during this pandemic and beyond.”

“While the COVID-19 pandemic has turned many of our lives upside down, one of the groups that has largely been overlooked throughout this ordeal, has been those suffering from opioid addiction. Just because the COVID-19 pandemic started did not mean that the opioid public health crisis ended,” said Fitzpatrick. “In fact, social distancing measures and concerns over the virus are adversely affecting how many people can be treated for Substance Use Disorder. Not only have treatment facilities and capabilities been challenged during this time, but those suffering from SUDs have faced many other difficulties. We must continue to work to help those in need during this difficult time.”

“While our nation has been focused on the COVID-19 pandemic, we know the addiction crisis has not gone away, and may have been made worse by the pandemic,” said Congressman Norcross. “As social distancing and other safety measures remain in place, both those suffering from Substance Use Disorder, as well as treatment facilities have been affected. It is more important than ever, that we support all members of our community by helping to safely provide the appropriate mental health and addiction services.” 

The Task Force was joined by:

  • Bradley Stein, Director of the National Institute of Health (NIH) funded Opioid Policy Tools and Information Center (OPTIC) at Rand Corporation
  • Regina LaBelle, Program Director of the Addiction and Public Policy Initiative at the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law
  • Michele Merritt, President and CEO of New Futures

“I am thankful to the Bipartisan Opioid Task Force for the opportunity to discuss this very important topic,” said Bradley Stein, Director of the NIH funded Opioid Policy Tools and Information Center (OPTIC) at the non-partisan RAND Corporation. “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.”

"Congresswoman Kuster has been a leader on addressing the nation's addiction epidemic for many years and her bipartisan work on the issue has expanded access to treatment, both in her home state of New Hampshire and across the country,” said Regina LaBelle, Program Director of the Addiction and Public Policy Initiative at the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law.  “Removing barriers to treatment and keeping people safe and healthy is a guiding principle for our Nation's response to both substance use disorders and COVID-19. "

“It has taken years of advocacy and consistent investment for New Hampshire to begin slowly turning the tide on the addiction epidemic,” said Michele Merritt, President and CEO of New Futures. “Our continued progress largely depends on the solvency of a young and fragile substance use disorder provider system. New Futures is grateful to Congresswoman Kuster for continuing to prioritize the fight against addiction, in this time of COVID-19, by keeping these issues at the forefront of national conversations.”

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), communities across the United States will experience increases in depression, anxiety, trauma, and grief as a result of the pandemic. Because of this, there is an expected increase in substance misuse as lives are impacted by the health and economic consequences of COVID-19. The bipartisan legislation Congresswoman Kuster introduced in April would provide much-needed support for smaller organizations to continue outreach and education to prevent drug misuse, as well as increased funding for telehealth.

The Bipartisan Opioid Task Force announced its 2020 Legislative Agenda earlier this year. At the beginning of April, Rep. Kuster sent a letter to New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu, urging him to work to ensure that Granite Staters struggling with substance use disorder (SUD) can get the care and support they need during the COVID-19 pandemic.