May 19, 2020

Kaine Joins Colleagues To Call For Increased Opioid & Substance Use Crisis Funding In Coronavirus Relief Package

As COVID-19 Increases Isolation and Stress, Senators Ask for $2 Billion to Combat Opioid and Substance Use Crisis

WASHINGTON, D.C. – As reports suggest that the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the opioid crisis, U.S. Senator Tim Kaine joined Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) in a letter urging House and Senate leadership to increase the federal investment for state, local and tribal governments, and treatment providers who are leading our nation’s response to the ongoing opioid and substance use epidemic.

The Senators also requested funding to collect data on substance use disorder, overdoses and deaths to fully monitor the shifting nature of the substance use crisis during this pandemic and ensure that we can appropriately target our resources.

“The current pandemic has dramatically altered the substance use disorder prevention, treatment, and recovery landscape in this country, and the needs of patients and communities are clear. The nature of the COVID-19 public health emergency has increased social isolation and stress while decreasing access to treatment and harm reduction resources, with significant repercussions for the substance use disorder and opioid use disorder crises. Already, early signs from around the country indicate a higher volume of emergency calls linked to illicit drug use, as well as reported overdoses and deaths,” wrote the Senators in their letter. 

The Senators continued, “Congress must continue to rise to this challenge, now exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, by significantly increasing funding in the next COVID-19 legislative package for states and localities to respond to their unique substance misuse crises. To this end, we urge you to provide $2 billion in funding for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to administer supplemental grant allocations under the Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment (SAPT) Block Grant program and the state opioid response grant program. Both grants are familiar to states and providers, and may be quickly directed towards areas of greatest need within the full continuum of prevention, treatment, and recovery.”

The letter was also signed by Senators Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Bob Casey (D-PA), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Tina Smith (D-MN), Ed Markey (D-MA), Jack Reed (D-RI), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Angus King (I-ME), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Chris Coons (D-DE), and Tom Carper (D-DE).  

The full letter is available here and included below.

Dear Majority Leader McConnell, Minority Leader Schumer, Speaker Pelosi, and Minority Leader McCarthy,

Thank you for your ongoing work to address the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. As you develop and negotiate the next legislative package to respond to this public health emergency, we urge you to prioritize the needs of states, local and tribal governments, and treatment providers who are responding to the substance use disorder (SUD) epidemic. As we continue working together to fight the COVID-19 outbreak, we must also build upon our work to combat the opioid and SUD crisis. In the next package, we respectfully request increased support for federal grants and programs aimed at opioid and substance use disorder prevention, treatment, recovery, and surveillance, and to fully support our treatment providers to prevent our addiction crisis from worsening.

The current pandemic has dramatically altered the SUD prevention, treatment, and recovery landscape in this country,  and the needs of patients and communities are clear. The nature of the COVID-19 public health emergency has increased social isolation and stress while decreasing access to treatment and harm reduction resources, with significant repercussions for the SUD and OUD crises.  Already, early signs from around the country indicate a higher volume of emergency calls linked to illicit drug use, as well as reported overdoses and deaths.   Last month, Dane County, Wisconsin saw an unexpected spike in suspected opioid overdoses, prompting the County to issue an opioid overdose alert for the first time this year.  New Hampshire SUD treatment and recovery providers are also concerned about the potential for increases in overdose deaths during the pandemic.  NEXT Distro, an online resource that provides naloxone and harm reduction tools, has identified a 300% nationwide increase in overdoses reported to their platform since March. 

The tremendous efforts of our states, supported by a pattern of significant federal investments, have made a difference and saved lives.  Congress demonstrated a strong bipartisan commitment to addressing this epidemic through the SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act (P.L. 115-271), and through recent government funding bills that prioritized targeted federal investments in SUD response funding. Importantly, the Fiscal Year 2020 (FY2020) funding legislation gave states, localities, and tribes the necessary flexibility to respond to the changing nature of this crisis by ensuring that State Opioid Response (SOR) grant funding could be used to address misuse of cocaine and methamphetamines, in addition to opioids.

Congress must continue to rise to this challenge, now exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, by significantly increasing funding in the next COVID-19 legislative package for states and localities to respond to their unique substance misuse crises. To this end, we urge you to provide $2 billion in funding for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to administer supplemental grant allocations under the Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment (SAPT) Block Grant program and the SOR grant program. Both grants are familiar to states and providers, and may be quickly directed towards areas of greatest need within the full continuum of prevention, treatment, and recovery. We also urge Congress to grant SAMHSA all necessary authorities to ensure maximum flexibility in the use of these funds, including allowing emergency bridge funding to prevent the closure of treatment or recovery organizations; ensuring that funding may be used for the purchase of personal protective equipment (PPE) for providers; facilitating the transition of providers to new treatment models and telehealth services; and permitting SAMHSA greater flexibility in the disbursement and reporting timelines for these grants. We also urge you to ensure that SOR grant dollars can be used to respond to an even broader array of substance use disorders, including alcohol misuse, in addition to opioids and stimulants.

Furthermore, it is clear that the pandemic has created new difficulties for SUD surveillance and data collection.  We request a supplemental investment of $100 million for data collection conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and states and localities through the CDC’s Opioid Overdose Prevention and Surveillance activities, including the Overdose Data to Action Program, and that this funding be given flexibility to allow for surveillance of stimulant and other substance use as well. The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the incredible importance of public health surveillance, and it is imperative that we continue to accurately collect and report data on SUD, overdoses, and deaths to fully monitor the shifting nature of the substance misuse crisis and ensure that we appropriately target our resources.

Finally, we fully support the efforts of our colleagues to fund many other important federal mental and behavioral health programs in the next package including those administered by SAMHSA, CDC, Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), and Indian Health Service (IHS) and ensure adequate support for behavioral health providers and organizations. As we look to the future, it is critical that the needs of providers are met in order to respond to the needs of those struggling with substance misuse, as well as the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Despite the strong federal investment in the past few years, the SUD epidemic continues to evolve and ravage communities across the country, and the COVID-19 pandemic threatens to exacerbate this crisis. We urge you to provide robust additional funding to fully support the needs of state, local, and tribal governments and providers as they work to prevent and treat substance use disorders during this challenging time. We appreciate your consideration of this request.

Sincerely,

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