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BPC Launches Opioid Crisis Task Force to Address U.S. Epidemic

Headshot of Joann Donnellan
Joann Donnellan

Washington, DC – The United States is in the midst of an epidemic within a pandemic—drug addiction and overdose deaths. Overdose death rates are at an all-time high. Preliminary CDC data show that more than 90,000 Americans died from drug overdose deaths from October 2019 to September 2020, a nearly 30% increase from the previous year. To address this epidemic, the Bipartisan Policy Center today launched the Opioid Crisis Task Force to develop evidence-based recommendations for Congress and the Biden administration. Recommendations will focus on actions that will drive down drug overdose deaths in the near-term and strengthen the effectiveness of the federal response to the crisis over the long-term.

Task Force members include:

  • Jerome Adams, M.D., 20th U.S. Surgeon General
  • Steve Beshear, Former Governor (D-KY)
  • Mary Bono, Former U.S. Representative (R-CA)
  • Richard G. Frank, Ph.D., Margaret T. Morris Professor of Health Economics, Harvard University
  • Patrice Harris, M.D., CEO, eMed; Former President, American Medical Association
  • Susanna Martinez, Former Governor (R-NM)
  • Donna E. Shalala, Former U.S. Representative (D-FL); Former HHS Secretary

“Overdose death rates have accelerated during COVID-19 and the opioid and broader drug overdose epidemic continues to be one of the nation’s leading public health crises,” said members of the task force. “While significant federal investments have been made to tackle this epidemic, treatment remains out of reach for the vast majority of Americans with substance use disorders. Our aim is to evaluate how federal funding has been spent and offer actionable solutions to improve prevention, treatment, and recovery efforts to reduce overdoses and save lives.”

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 20.4 million people aged 12 or older had a substance use disorder in 2019 but only 4.2 million, or 21%, received treatment.

Over the coming months, the task force will examine drug overdose trends in the past two years and the main drivers behind the surge, track fiscal year 2020 federal opioid funding and investments from the four COVID-19 emergency relief packages, and analyze the types of treatment services that are being supported across the country and the gaps that exist. The report will also examine treatment disparities in states that expanded Medicaid compared to non-expansion states.

The work of this new bipartisan group will build on BPC’s two prior reports which tracked federal opioid funding for FY20172019. Those reports are the only comprehensive, transparent analysis of federal funding to support states in tackling the nation’s opioid epidemic.

“Congress has made substantial financial investments to tackle the opioid epidemic, yet drug overdoses and mortality rates continue to climb, driven by illicitly manufactured fentanyl, with the highest increase in mortality among Black communities,” said Dr. Anand Parekh, BPC’s chief medical advisor who leads the project. “We must determine more effective ways to utilize federal investments to combat this epidemic and close the gap between those who are seeking treatment and those receiving it.”

“We believe this work will be instrumental in identifying best practices and defining potential solutions to the opioid crisis that has gripped our nation,” said Dr. Karen A. Scott, President of the Foundation for Opioid Response Efforts (FORE) which is supporting this work. “The collaborative bipartisan approach of the task force can help address the surge in overdose deaths and inform federal policies that will impact people with opioid use disorder and their families.”

BPC strongly believes there is a window of opportunity to advance more effective federal policy for combating the nation’s opioid crisis. With a new administration and a narrowly divided Congress, meaningful and durable bipartisan reforms will greatly enhance the prospect for bipartisan action.

A final report will be issued in early 2022.

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