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Biden administration seeks to expand access to treatment amid opioid epidemic

The 2022 National Drug Control Strategy calls for greater access to drug test strips, syringe services programs and naloxone.
President Biden Addresses National Association Of Counties
President Joe Biden speaks at the National Association of Counties Legislative Conference in Washington on Feb. 15.Joshua Roberts / Bloomberg via Getty Images file

The Biden administration will send its drug control strategy to Congress on Thursday as officials scramble for ways to curb the deepening opioid and overdose crisis.

The 2022 National Drug Control Strategy focuses on addressing untreated addiction and drug trafficking, two critical drivers of the overdose epidemic, which claimed nearly 107,000 lives from November 2020 to November 2021, the White House said in a fact sheet.

The strategy calls for federal action to expand access to harm reduction interventions — including drug test strips, syringe services programs and naloxone, which can halt drug overdoses — as well as to target drug traffickers' illicit profits.

"Drug overdoses have taken a heartbreaking toll," Dr. Rahul Gupta, who leads the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, told reporters on a call. "This is the most dynamic drug environment we have ever seen in this nation."

Naloxone often doesn't make it into the hands of those most at risk of overdoses because of restrictions and lack of funding at the community level, Gupta said, calling the limited access to the lifesaving drug "unacceptable."

According to the 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, only 2.7 million of the 41.1 million people who needed treatment for substance use disorders in the previous year were treated at special facilities.

As part of his drug policy agenda, President Joe Biden has emphasized evidence-based prevention and harm reduction, as well as approaches to reduce supply, to save lives. The new strategy is “the first-ever to champion harm reduction to meet people where they are and engage them in care and service,” the White House said.

The strategy also pushes federal agencies to target the financial gains of illicit drug traffickers and transportation routes across the Caribbean and along the Northern and Southwest borders to reduce the supply of illicit drugs, according to the fact sheet.

Drug overdose deaths have continued to climb in the U.S. after they surpassed 100,000 in a 12-month period for the first time last year, according to data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Biden’s fiscal 2023 budget proposal, released last month, called on lawmakers to approve an additional $600 million to support his drug control efforts, including $300 million for Customs and Border Protection and $300 million for the Drug Enforcement Administration.