Fitzpatrick leads Bipartisan Opioid Task Force review of pandemic’s impact on opioid crisis

Americans suffering from opioid addiction have experienced additional challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic, said U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), Republican leader of the Bipartisan Opioid Task Force, during its June 24 meeting.

“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,” Rep. Fitzpatrick said. “Just because the COVID-19 pandemic started did not mean that the opioid public health crisis ended.”

The congressman on Wednesday hosted a virtual discussion on addressing the dual crises of the COVID-19 pandemic and the opioid epidemic with task force members U.S. Reps. Annie Kuster (D-NH) and Donald Norcross (D-NJ) and several substance use disorder (SUD) experts, who discussed the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic that have led to an increase in substance misuse as Americans struggle with the current public health crisis and economic downturn.

“In fact, social distancing measures and concerns over the virus are adversely affecting how many people can be treated for” SUD, said Rep. Fitzpatrick. “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.”

Rep. Kuster, the Democratic lead on the task force, said the economic downturn and associated stress people are feeling over the pandemic “have made these last few months especially challenging for people at risk of substance misuse.”

The Bipartisan Opioid Task Force members were joined by Bradley Stein, director of the National Institute of Health-funded Opioid Policies, Tools, and Information Center at Rand Corp.; Regina LaBelle, program director of the Addiction and Public Policy Initiative at the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law; and Michele Merritt, president and CEO of New Futures.