While CDC statistics indicate the COVID-19 pandemic is nowhere near fading away—nearly 4,000 people died of COVID-related illness during the week ending 11/21/20—President-elect Joe Biden and his incoming administration will need to address another health crisis, as well: the nation’s drug epidemic is back on the rise.
According to a recent POLITICO.com article, however, it’s apparent Biden will be trying something different than the tough-on-crime approach he touted during his decades in the Senate. “Biden has stocked his team with addiction experts with extensive backgrounds in public health (and) will emphasize new funding for substance abuse treatment and prevention, while calling to eliminate jail time for drug use.”
In addition, Biden has pledged to “build upon”—not tear down—the Affordable Care Act. Given the Trump administration’s continual legal efforts to overturn the Affordable Care Act—which would undercut access to substance abuse treatment—and increased focus on law enforcement in recent months, this news may provide a ray of hope to those afflicted and affected by the ravages of drug addiction, as well as those in the healthcare field.
Michael Botticelli, who led the White House drug policy office under President Barack Obama, was quoted as saying, “We have every reason to believe President-elect Biden will view this primarily as a public health issue. They recognize there is a critical component law enforcement has to play, but leading with a public health strategy.”
Lest anyone question whether or not the country’s drug addiction epidemic has been made worse by the pandemic, the authors of a NY Times article titled “In Shadow of Pandemic, U.S. Drug Overdose Deaths Resurge to Record” cite statistics indicating drug deaths have risen an average of 13% so far this year.
It has also been pointed out a number of states are troubled with “double-digit spikes in overdose deaths (and) sparse public health workforces already stretched thin fighting the coronavirus,” as well as “widening budget deficits brought on by the pandemic (that) could force painful cutbacks to public services.”
In fact, a record number of people—more than 76,000 people—died of a drug overdose between April 2019 and April 2020, per the latest federal data. “Federal health officials say the drug crisis has only been amplified by months of social isolation, high unemployment and the diversion of resources to combat the virus.”
Fortunately, President-elect Biden, whose son Hunter struggled with substance abuse, has called for record levels of investment in drug prevention and treatment, as well as the importance of holding drug companies accountable for their role in the opioid epidemic.
Regardless of the political challenges the new administration may face once taking office in January, treatment-and-prevention advocates are heartened there are steps not requiring congressional approval Biden is expected to take following his inauguration — including revitalizing the White House drug control office and empowering public health officials to shape drug policy.
Indeed, Biden recently received a letter signed by representatives of more than 70 public health organizations imploring him to elevate the head of the White House drug office (aka, the nation’s ‘drug czar,’ a term Biden himself coined nearly 40 years ago) into his Cabinet, citing an “unprecedented addiction crisis.”
As has been noted in various publications, Biden’s transition team is filled with public health officials — “a signal that health experts will drive the incoming administration’s drug control strategy.” They include one of Biden’s chief coronavirus advisers, former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy—a leading candidate for head of the HHS—who previously issued the office’s first-ever report or substance abuse, urging that it “be dealt with as a health care issue rather than a law enforcement matter.”
With strategic picks like this and others, Biden’s emphasis on treatment and prevention, not law enforcement, may prove to be a much sought-after godsend in America’s current struggle with drug addiction.