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Jan. 29, 2021 – The new administration has also appointed California Attorney General Xavier Becerra to head the Health and Human Services Department.

Becerra, who hasn’t been confirmed by the Senate, has been active in the past on opioid issues. Earlier this month, he joined a coalition of state attorneys general demanding immediate action by the FDA on the addiction crisis.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has hit us all and further exacerbated the opioid crisis — people need support now more than ever,” Becerra said in a Jan. 11 statement.

Drug use appears to have increased amid the isolation and fear wrought by the pandemic, while treatment options have become limited because of coronavirus precautions.

But since taking office, Biden hasn’t yet used executive orders or other policy announcements to focus attention on overdose deaths the way he has done with issues such as energy, climate, immigration and abortion.

“New ideas are desperately needed”

Experts interviewed by NPR said they understand why the new administration’s focus lies elsewhere. The pandemic and the resulting economic fallout were widely expected to top the Biden team’s agenda.

But there was also a consensus that the drug epidemic, heightened by the coronavirus, has entered a particularly dangerous phase that demands action.

“While COVID-19 may have pushed our problems with overdoses to the backburner, they’re still boiling over,” said Beau Kilmer, director of the Rand Drug Policy Research Center. “New ideas are desperately needed.”

More than 220 Americans are dying from overdoses every day, according to preliminary data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Last month, the CDC issued an advisory calling for a swift public health response. Researchers warned that 10 Western states had reported a doubling in synthetic opioid-involved deaths.

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