Lawmakers raise concerns over the pandemic’s effect on the nation’s opioid crisis

Aug 11, 2020
Press Release
Data shows nationwide overdose deaths have risen sharply in recent months as more Americans stay isolated due to spread of COVID-19

WASHINGTON, D.C. – A bipartisan group of lawmakers – led by U.S. Reps. Diana DeGette (D-CO) and Frank Pallone Jr. (D-NJ) – today called on the administration to provide more information on how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting the nation’s ongoing efforts to curb the opioid crisis.

In a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, the lawmakers – all of whom serve as senior members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which oversees HHS – raised concerns that the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is exacerbating the substance abuse and overdose crisis the country has been trying to curb for decades.

To better understand the affect that the ongoing pandemic may be having on this front, the lawmakers requested that HHS provide detailed information showing, among other things, the latest trends in substance use and overdoses throughout the U.S, how those trends are affected by the coronavirus outbreak and what the federal government needs to do to address this growing crisis.

“While we continue the fight against the COVID-19 crisis, we cannot lose sight of another:  the ongoing substance use disorder (SUD) and overdose crisis that our country has been battling for decades,” the lawmakers wrote.  “Since 1999, over 750,000 Americans have died from drug overdoses, representing the worst drug crisis in American history, and we are concerned that overdose deaths are increasing while attention is focused on COVID-19.”

In 2018, the number of fatal drug overdoses decreased for the first time in over two decades. Last year, however, overdose deaths increased once again to an all-time high. Now, that total is reportedly increasing even more as the country continues to grapple with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. 

According to data compiled by the Washington Post, suspected overdose deaths nationwide increased 18% in March, 29% in April and 42% in May compared to the same month’s totals last year.

“The world’s public health experts, governments, and industries are focused on the COVID-19 pandemic – and that work continues, but we must not become complacent about other threats that our country faces, nor allow the progress we have made to become undone,” the lawmakers wrote to Azar.

As people continue to isolate as a result of the pandemic, more Americans are suffering from depression and economic hardship – and many are finding it harder to seek the treatment they need.

As Dr. Nora Volkow, Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse at the National Institutes of Health, recently stated, “that the support systems that were there to actually help them achieve recovery are no longer present.  At the same time, access to some of the treatment programs has become much harder to get by and that actually includes emergency departments.”

In addition to DeGette and Pallone, the letter was signed by Reps. Greg Walden (R-OR), Brett Guthrie (R-KY), Anna Eshoo (D-CA) and Michael Burgess (R-TX). 

To read the lawmakers’ full letter to Azar, click here.