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Opioid abuse spiked during the pandemic. What can Congress do?


With Nicholas Wu, Sarah Ferris and Kyle Cheney.

ANOTHER KILLER: Bear with me for a second because this is something I have been thinking about quite a bit. A friend of mine who is a neonatal intensive care unit nurse once told me about seeing a rise in babies suffering from withdrawal symptoms, including seizures, after being born — a response she attributed to mothers using opioids while pregnant and potentially a sign of increased use of opioids in her area.

Her point to me: The impact is not just on the parents — it will affect members of a new generation who are facing additional obstacles as they grow up starting from the day they are born, whether it is behavioral issues or mental disabilities. That doesn’t paint a pretty picture, nor do the stats about the rise in opioid use during Covid, which is what I want to spotlight today as well as the legislation lawmakers are pushing to pass to address the issue, like the COPE Act and the CARE Act.

The CDC issued a warning in December citing “a concerning acceleration of the increase in drug overdose deaths, with the largest increase recorded from March 2020 to May 2020, coinciding with the implementation of widespread mitigation measures for the COVID-19 pandemic.” It found there were roughly 81,230 drug overdose deaths in the U.S. from May 2019-May 2020, which it said “is the largest number of drug overdoses for a 12-month period ever recorded.” And for the lawmakers who represent districts with high rates of opioid use, they say the downward spiral occurring as Covid shut the country down was visible. Adding to the problem: Studies show people with substance use disorders are particularly susceptible to contracting Covid. It is all tied together.

“In 2018, our nation finally saw our first decline in drug overdose deaths in decades. And that was quickly erased unfortunately because once you get to the pandemic, it brings all the problems that you have with social isolation, heightened anxiety, people are all worried about where the next dollar is going to come from,” Rep. David Joyce (R-Ohio), who represents an area particularly hit hard by the opioid crisis, told me.

The pandemic also makes the recovery aspect that much harder, including access to Naloxone, peer support groups plus a lack of resources as funding runs dry.

“Like many states, the pandemic has led to unprecedented unemployment in West Virginia. The correlation between economic distress, unemployment, and a rise in drug overdoses is well documented,” Senator Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) said in a statement to your Huddle host. “Treatment centers and clinics have struggled to stay afloat during the pandemic as patient volumes dropped and facility costs increased, further risking access to necessary treatment. They need funding and support now more than ever.”

What is being done? Well for one, the House Energy and Commerce Committee has announced an April 14 hearing on substance abuse during the pandemic. They’ll hear from Acting Director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy Regina LaBelle and other experts. Congress’ Covid relief bills have also dedicated billions in funds for substance abuse prevention and treatment (SAMHSA), including grants for certified community behavioral health clinics. But lawmakers are also pushing for more resources and action to be taken.

Joyce says he wants to see the Comprehensive Opioid Program Extension (COPE) Act passed, legislation he introduced that would increase the authorized funding level for the Justice Department, so that the agency has $70 million more a year over the next five years to dedicate towards providing training and resources for first responders. Some Republicans have also argued that reopening the economy — and thus the return of more jobs — will also help, especially as vaccinations become more widespread.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and others have also introduced the Comprehensive Addiction Resources (CARE) Act, which would provide $100 billion to community organizations that are focused on prevention, treatment and recovery.

Rep. Lori Trahan (D-Mass.), who also represents a district where opioid abuse is a big issue, ticked off a series of bills that would help address the matter, including her own bipartisan legislation: the Medication, Access, and Training Expansion Act (MATE), which would help standardize substance use disorder training for prescribers of highly addictive medications.

“You see it on the ground when you’re home, in your communities,” Trahan told me. “I think that gives us the momentum that we need to have a bipartisan effort on this.”

AUDITOR, MEET HOUSE ADMIN: The House Administration Committee will bring in the inspector general of the Capitol Police force next Thursday to discuss its probe into the department’s security failures at the Capitol insurrection, Sarah reports.

This one will be big: It’s the first chance for the department’s watchdog, Michael Bolton, to discuss his scathing findings about the response leading up to Jan. 6. (The months-long review also marks the first federal audit of the attack.) In Bolton’s preliminary report, first reported by CBS News, he identified multiple “deficiencies” and failures to flag intelligence that the protestors may be violent.

UNMASKED: Elliot Resnick, the Trump-boosting editor of a New York-based Orthodox Jewish newspaper, has spent recent years inflaming racial tensions, drawing rebukes for his attacks on the LGBTQ community and, more recently, boosting Trump’s discredited theories about a stolen election. In February, he scored an interview with Trump’s lead impeachment lawyer and he’s peppered social media with skepticism about the election results. Last month he wrote an op-ed defending the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol.

What he never mentioned? Resnick was among those who breached the building that day, per footage POLITICO reviewed, which showed him in the Capitol on Jan. 6 and briefly visible standing near a Capitol police officer who was being berated by an unidentified rioter. (He doesn’t hold a Capitol press pass.)

Resnick, who hasn’t faced charges and isn’t shown committing or encouraging acts of violence in footage viewed by POLITICO, has ignored requests for comment for more than two weeks. And the Jewish Press repeatedly declined to say if that paper’s leaders authorized Resnick to be there. Kyle has the scoop: https://politi.co/3t2GsNE

Related: Boehner blasts Trump, saying he ‘incited that Bloody insurrection,’ by NYT’s Maggie Haberman: https://nyti.ms/3t3Ahcj | 10 Democrats join NAACP lawsuit against Trump, by The Hill’s Marty Johnson: https://bit.ly/3fSarnK

HAPPY THURSDAY! Welcome to Huddle, the play-by-play guide to all things Capitol Hill on this April 8, where your Huddle host knows some of you will be very excited to learn Joe Quattrone, “Joe Q” of Rayburn Barbershop, is back at the cutting chair.

WEDNESDAY’S MOST CLICKED: Ben White’s story on how corporate America was tearing down Biden’s infrastructure plan was the big winner.

MANCH’S STANCE: Sen. Joe Manchin ain’t budging on the filibuster. The West Virginia Democrat wrote in a Washington Post op-ed on Wednesday that he sees “no circumstance” in which he would vote to kill the 60-vote threshold for most legislation, further boxing in the Senate Democratic caucus. “Every time the Senate voted to weaken the filibuster in the past decade, the political dysfunction and gridlock have grown more severe,” Manchin wrote. “The time has come to end these political games.”

OH, and also: “I simply do not believe budget reconciliation should replace regular order in the Senate. How is that good for the future of this nation?” Manchin writes. More here from our Maria Carrasco: https://politi.co/3msv9vK

STATE OF CONFUSION: “Senate Democrats touted a wonky budget ruling this week as empowering them to muscle through more big-ticket bills without any Republican support. But not everyone fully understands it. Days later, congressional aides and budget experts — including some who have seen the actual ruling — are still confused about the decision from the Senate parliamentarian…Enough issues remain unresolved that it’s still not clear what the ruling means for President Joe Biden’s $2 trillion-plus infrastructure and jobs agenda…” Our Caitlin Emma on the head scratcher: https://politi.co/3uukHGY

Related: Democrats weigh reconciliation bill for immigration action, by Roll Call’s Caroline Simon: https://bit.ly/3mvip7W

FIRST IN HUDDLE: GOP Rep. Doug LaMalfa (Calif.) is entering the brewing culture war over Covid vaccines by introducing the “Keep Vaccines Voluntary Act,” which would attempt to prevent businesses, the government and employers from discriminating against Americans who had not yet been vaccinated against Covid. He argues: “We cannot allow discrimination against anyone unable to receive a vaccine due to legitimate health reasons or availability or who chooses not to receive one.”

The legislation is unlikely to go anywhere in the Democratic-controlled House, but it comes amid the controversy over so-called vaccine passports. The Biden administration has said they did not support federal requirements for vaccinations and would instead leave the decision up to the private sector. Major universities like Cornell, Rutgers, and Notre Dame are already requiring students to be vaccinated, and some airlines have floated vaccination requirements as well. Read the full bill: https://politi.co/3uxnjE5

HELPING HAND: After Nick and Kyle wrote their story on the Capitol Police and mental health, the Capitol Police sent over additional information on what they’re doing to help officers in the aftermath of last Friday’s car attack. The Office of Employee Assistance is providing 24-hour support for officers. Trauma-informed counselors are available, and a Veterans Health Administration Mobile Vet Center has arrived to provide no-cost access to support, confidential counseling, and referrals.

A fellow USCP officer has also set up a GoFundMe for the family of William Evans, who died during last week’s attack. Lindsey Taylor describes the fundraiser as the only official one for his family. All proceeds will go into a trust benefiting his two children, Logan and Abigail, and “will be used for their health, maintenance, comfort, support, and education in the coming months and years.”

GAETZ UPDATES: Matt Gaetz trip to Bahamas is part of federal probe into sex trafficking, sources say, scoops CBS News’ team: https://cbsn.ws/3rVsrA1 | Trump claims Gaetz ‘never asked me for a pardon,’ by our Ben Leonard: https://politi.co/3cUjnqV

NEW CO-CHAIR, WHO DIS?: With Rep. Tom Reed (R-N.Y.) announcing his retirement following allegations of sexual misconduct at a dinner in Minnesota in 2017, the Problem Solvers Caucus has named a new GOP co-chair: Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.). “Tom Reed (R-NY) will remain an active member of PSC & be part of a multi-month transition, helping ensure the Caucus continues its mission of bipartisan governing,” the 58-member caucus wrote on Twitter.

THE ART OF THE CLEANUP: McConnell walks back call for businesses to ‘stay out’ of politics, by Forbes’ Andrew Solender: https://bit.ly/3wEH66c

FIRST IN HUDDLE: More than 120 mayors, including the mayors of Atlanta and Boulder, Colo., are sending letters to every senator urging them to save lives by taking action on background checks legislation. They argue Congress must close the loopholes and require background checks for at least all handgun sales in the U.S.. “The mass shootings in Atlanta and Boulder in recent weeks are a reminder of the vulnerabilities we face when people who should not have guns are able to access them,” the mayors write. Read the letter here: https://politi.co/3fPwI5R

GUNNING IT: Biden is expected to unveil a long-awaited package of executive actions to curb gun violence today, including “requiring buyers of so-called ghost guns — homemade or makeshift firearms that lack serial numbers — to undergo background checks…” Our Anita Kumar reports: https://politi.co/3ux7o8J

Related: Biden to take a flurry of actions on gun control, by WaPo’s Seung Min Kim and Tyler Pager: https://wapo.st/3rZGkxa

BIPARTISAN? PROVE IT: The White House is stressing that it wants Republicans to work with them on Biden’s hefty infrastructure package. The 10 GOP senators who tried to work with Biden on his Covid relief bill say prove it. ‘The Administration roundly dismissed our effort as wholly inadequate in order to justify its go-it-alone strategy,’ they say in a new statement.

TAX CLICKS: US offers new plan in global corporate tax talks, by James Politi, Aime Williams and Chris Giles: https://on.ft.com/3dH8JDi | Confusion may be Democrats’ friend in drive to raise corporate taxes, by our Brian Faler: https://politi.co/3dO1Tvw

COURT REPORT: Former Rep. Katie Hill loses first round in her lawsuit alleging revenge porn, by the Los Angeles Times’s Seema Mehta: https://lat.ms/2Q7CXXX

CAMPAIGN CENTRAL:

-Sen. Mark Kelly raises $4.4 million in first quarter for 2022 race, by AZCentral’s Yvonne Wingett: https://bit.ly/39QXJlm

-Mo Brooks nabs Trump endorsement in Alabama Senate race, by our Alex Isenstadt: https://politi.co/3uuL9jD … AND: Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill admits affair, won’t run for U.S. Senate: ‘There’s no excuse,’ by AL.com’s Connor Sheets and Kyle Whitmire: https://bit.ly/31SwO4o

-Trump relaunches his fundraising machine after months of quiet, Isenstadt also reports: https://politi.co/3s4qq4G

TRANSITIONS

Marielle Thete has joined Bono’s ONE Campaign as a Director of U.S. Government Relations. She joins ONE from CARE. She is a Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) alum.

TODAY IN CONGRESS

The House will meet at 3 p.m. in a pro forma session.

The Senate will meet at 5:30 p.m. in a pro forma session.

AROUND THE HILL

2 p.m.: Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) holds her weekly news conference via teleconference.

6 p.m.: Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) delivers remarks on “the Biden administration, the prospects for racial progress, and the state of U.S. democracy,” during an online event hosted by the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at American University’s School of Public Affairs.

TRIP TO THE BORDER: Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.), chairman of the Republican Study Committee, is in Texas with Rep. Tony Gonzales (R-Texas) and seven other RSC members to observe the border crisis, with plans to make stops at the DHS detention facility in Eagle Pass, Texas, and several sites along the Del Rio sector of the border.

TRIVIA

WEDNESDAY’S WINNER: Kirtan Mehta was the first person to correctly guess that Benjamin Harrison recreated a huge ball covered with political slogans, like his grandfather Willian Henry Harrison did in 1840.

TODAY’S QUESTION: From Kirtan: On this day, April 8, in 1960 the Civil Rights Act was signed into law. Who was the lead sponsor of the bill in the House?

The first person to correctly guess gets a mention in the next edition of Huddle. Send your answer to [email protected].

GET HUDDLE emailed to your phone each morning.

Follow Olivia on Twitter: @Olivia_Beavers





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