WASHINGTON, D.C.Today, Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick (PA-01), Annie Kuster (D-NH), David Trone (D-MD), and Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-WA), co-chairs of the Bipartisan Addiction and Mental Health Task Force, hosted the first Task Force roundtable entitled, “Dual Crisis: COVID-19 and Substance Use Disorder.”

“I look forward to working with my colleagues on the Bipartisan Addiction and Mental Health Task Force as co-chair and finding bipartisan, constructive solutions to one of our Nation’s most pressing issues: addiction and mental health,” said Rep. Fitzpatrick. “We must push for sufficient Medicaid funding, responsible care provided by states and counties, enforcement of mental health parity by insurance companies, and supportive housing and other resources for those struggling to care for themselves. These are all essential in addressing the gaps in care.”

“COVID-19 has brought tremendous challenges for people in New Hampshire and across the country, and the isolation has exacerbated the ongoing substance use crisis,” said Rep. Kuster. “It’s critical that Congress does not turn our back on those in need — that’s why I founded the Bipartisan Addiction and Mental Health Task Force, to advance evidence-based policies to end the addiction and mental health crises in America through prevention and treatment. Today’s discussion marks the first formal event of the Task Force, and my hope is that this conversation will inform us as policymakers and advocates alike as we look beyond COVID-19 and address the rise in overdose deaths across our country.”

“As our nation begins to heal from this pandemic, we cannot forget about the addiction and mental health crises that have been exacerbated by COVID and will be left in its wake,” said Rep. Trone. “The first meeting of the Bipartisan Addiction and Mental Health Task Force today focused on the action steps we need to take collectively in Congress to address how mental health, addiction, and incarceration are all intertwined and must be addressed collectively. I want to thank my co-chairs and the many Members of Congress who contributed to this important conversation. This is just the beginning of our work together.”

“Today the Bipartisan Addiction and Mental Health Task Force got to work and held its first session, shining the light on how COVID has exacerbated substance use and mental health issues in Southwest Washington communities and those across the country,” Rep. Herrera Beutler said. “I want to thank Dr. Wilson Compton and Dr. Chris Jones for joining our roundtable, answering our questions, and providing valuable insight into the impacts COVID has had on our communities. I look forward to our bipartisan Task Force continuing to listen, learn, and then using that information to shape and implement policies that help empower folks to break addiction and obtain treatment to improve mental health.”

“People with substance use disorders are not only at increased risk of COVID-19, but as the CDC recently and importantly recognized, they are at increased risk of serious, life-threatening complications from COVID,” said Wilson Compton, MD, MPE, Deputy Director, National Institute on Drug Abuse. “This underscores the importance of ensuring that individuals and their clinicians understand substance use disorders as underlying health conditions that warrant additional precautions in the context of COVID.”

“While COVID-19 continues to dominate our national focus, we cannot lose sight that so many lives in communities across our nation continue to be impacted by an overdose epidemic that preceded, persists, and indeed has been exacerbated by the pandemic,” said Dr. Chris Jones, Deputy Director, CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. “Although data are still emerging, available research indicates substance use, overdose, and mental health have worsened during the pandemic. We must redouble our commitment to working with public health, public safety, and community partners to advance an interdisciplinary and comprehensive approach to addressing substance use, mental health, and overdose.”

Participants at today’s roundtable included: Rep. Annie Kuster (NH-02), Rep. David Trone (MD-06), Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (PA-01), Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (WA-03), Rep. Donald Norcross (NJ-01), Rep. Angie Craig (MN-02), Rep. Brad Wenstrup (OH-02), Rep. Katie Porter (CA-45), Rep. John Rutherford (FL-04), and Rep. Marcy Kaptur (OH-09).

The Bipartisan Addiction and Mental Health Task Force merges the Bipartisan Opioid Task Force, which was co-chaired by Reps. Fitzpatrick and Kuster in the 116th Congress and founded by Rep. Kuster in 2015, and Trone’s Freshmen Working Group on Addiction.

This Task Force aims to make the most progress possible on addiction and mental health by combining efforts in the 117th Congress. These dual public health crises that have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic will be addressed in the forthcoming 2021 Legislative Agenda. The group will create policies that will save lives, host regular meetings with stakeholders, and attend site visits.