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April 06, 2021

Trone, Kuster, Barragán, Porter Lead Letter to HHS Urging Extension and Expansion of Public Health Emergency from Opioid Crisis

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

CONTACT:

Hannah Muldavin, Hannah.Muldavin@mail.house.gov (Trone)

Jen Fox, Jen.Fox@mail.house.gov (Kuster)

Ron Eckstein, Ron.Eckstein@mail.house.gov (Barragán)

Lindsay Reilly, Lindsay.Reilly@mail.house.gov (Porter)

Trone, Kuster, Barragán, Porter Lead Letter to HHS Urging Extension and Expansion of Public Health Emergency from Opioid Crisis

**Kuster and Trone are founders and co-chairs of the Bipartisan Mental Health and Addiction Task Force**

**In 2017, HHS declared a nationwide public health emergency (PHE) as a result of the opioid crisis — it has since been renewed 12 times and is set to expire April 7, 2021**

Washington, D.C. — Today, Representatives David Trone (MD-06), Nanette Diaz Barragán (CA-44), Katie Porter (CA-45), and Annie Kuster (NH-02), sent a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services Secretary, Xavier Becerra, ahead of the expiring opioid public health emergency (PHE) on Wednesday, April 7th, 2021. In the letter, the Members urge HHS to consider renewing the PHE declared to combat the opioid epidemic and broaden its scope to address the evolving drug epidemic, while also addressing mental health.

“The past year has weighed heavy on the American people,” the Members wrote. “A once-in-a-century virus and the resulting economic downfall exacerbated multiple existing public health crises, such as the scourge of overdose deaths. Recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests that drug overdose deaths accelerated during the pandemic. In the twelve months leading up to August 2020, 88,000 overdose deaths occurred, the highest ever recorded in a twelve-month period. While synthetic opioids are considered a driver of these statistics, overdose deaths involving other drugs, such as methamphetamine and cocaine, are part of the increasing concern as well.”

“While complete data for 2020 continues to be collected and analyzed, most public health experts agree that the pandemic will have short- and long-term effects on substance use and mental health,” the Members continued. “Federal public health agencies must coordinate now to increase treatment and prevent further tragedy. We urge you to consider renewing the PHE declared to combat the opioid epidemic and broaden its scope to address the evolving drug epidemic, and use your full authority to improve upon efforts to address mental health in the United States.”

The full letter is available here, or below:

Dear Secretary Becerra: 

Congratulations on your recent confirmation as Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). As we look toward the light at the end of the coronavirus disease of 2019 (COVID-19) tunnel, we must continue our efforts to combat a looming dual-crisis. 

On October 26, 2017, the former acting secretary of HHS declared a nationwide public health emergency (PHE) as a result of the consequences of the opioid crisis. The PHE has since been renewed twelve times and is set to expire on April 7, 2021. As you consider renewing the PHE, we urge you to broaden its scope to allow for a strong, compassionate response to the challenges presented by the evolving drug overdose epidemic. Additionally, we ask you to address increasing mental health needs worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The past year has weighed heavy on the American people. A once-in-a-century virus and the resulting economic downfall exacerbated multiple existing public health crises, such as the scourge of overdose deaths. Recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests that drug overdose deaths accelerated during the pandemic. In the twelve months leading up to August 2020, 88,000 overdose deaths occurred, the highest ever recorded in a twelve-month period. While synthetic opioids are considered a driver of these statistics, overdose deaths involving other drugs, such as methamphetamine and cocaine, are part of the increasing concern as well. These figures are tragic and evidence of a broader national battle with substance use. 

Prior to the pandemic, we knew that substance use and mental health issues were interconnected and on the rise. Last year, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reported that co-occurring substance use and mental disorders were common, with adolescents having significant increased rates of major depressive episodes and substance use disorders (SUD). In 2019, 19.3 million adults had a SUD, 51.5 million had a mental illness, and 9.5 million adults had both. These figures represented a 5.9 percent increase over 2018. For patients struggling with co-occurring disorders, it is critical to receive treatment for each, but there is a significant treatment gap. Those who do get treatment are not getting treatment for co-occurring disorders and most with co-occurring disorders get treatment for one disorder or no treatment at all. 

While complete data for 2020 continues to be collected and analyzed, most public health experts agree that the pandemic will have short- and long-term effects on substance use and mental health. Federal public health agencies must coordinate now to increase treatment and prevent further tragedy. We urge you to consider renewing the PHE declared to combat the opioid epidemic and broaden its scope to address the evolving drug epidemic, and use your full authority to improve upon efforts to address mental health in the United States. 

Thank you for your attention to this important matter. We look forward to working with you and President Biden’s administration on these critical issues. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us or our staff. 

 

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