Jan. 23, 2022 – As evidence-based drug treatment and interventions became increasingly difficult to obtain during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, fatal overdoses in the United States skyrocketed to their highest level ever. While the Biden administration has said it will broaden access to harm reduction and treatment, experts say the money that has been set aside isn’t doing enough to slow the rising pace of overdose deaths in this country.

U.S. policies have long skewed toward punishing people struggling with substance use rather than looking for ways to treat them – a strategy that has not been enough to prevent dramatic loss of life. Compared to decades of punitive policy, greater understanding has emerged among lawmakers and the public in recent years, but action at the federal level hasn’t fully caught up. 

The American Rescue Plan Act, signed into law on March 11, 2021, earmarked nearly $4 billion to boost mental health and substance use disorder programs, including some money set aside specifically to address the opioid crisis. 

In December, two additional initiatives were announced: $30 million in grants from the he Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (distributing $10 million a year for the next three years) to communities to develop and deploy innovative programs built around harm reduction; and model legislation from the Office of National Drug Control Policy released Dec. 8 that state lawmakers could pass to make naloxone available over the counter, buy fentanyl test strips and expand syringe exchange services. 


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