President Joe Biden, shown here on March 29, said Monday the nation can't lose sight of the substance abuse crisis in the United States. Pool Photo by Stefani Reynolds/UPI | License Photo
April 5 (UPI) -- The COVID-19 pandemic has contributed to sharply higher drug overdose deaths and the federal government will continue to take "urgent action" to combat addiction, President Joe Biden said Monday.
In a video message delivered during the 10th annual Drug and Heroin Summit, Biden noted that fatal opioid overdoses surged last year as the global health crisis deepened.
"In the shadow of a pandemic that has occupied our attention and has claimed more than a half-million lives, we can't lose sight of these other epidemics, of the overdose crises," he said. "COVID-19 has made this situation a lot worse."
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 88,000 Americans died from overdoses during the 12-month period beginning in August 2019 -- a 27% jump from the previous year.
The surge was driven in part by "rising isolation and financial insecurity" fueled by the pandemic, the president said, adding, "We need to meet this crisis with urgent action."
The $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan relief signed into law on March 12 includes $4 billion for mental health and substance abuse care, $1.5 billion for prevention and treatment and $400 million to support community behavioral health clinics.
Biden, who called drug addiction a "deeply personal" issue for his family, said his administration is committed to expanding access to drug treatment and to "reducing the supply of illicit substances coming into the United States."
At the same time, he celebrated those who are in recovery from drug addiction, saying, "We hold them in our hearts."
Although he did not mention his son by name, the president's remarks came a day before Hunter Biden -- who has struggled with addiction -- releases a book. In Beautiful Things, Hunter Biden details his dependence and tells how his family fought to intervene to save his life.
Doug Edwards, vice president of HMP Global and director of its Psychiatry and Behavioral Health Learning Network, said the president's participation in the summit "signals that the addiction crisis is a top priority for the administration and underscores its gravity."
Edwards also emphasized that COVID-19 has exacerbated the addiction crisis because treatment, rehabilitation and public health programs have been disrupted and isolation has increased among people with substance abuse problems.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky led a list of 15 congressional members who are also scheduled to make presentations at the drug summit, as well as two governors and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky.
"Everyone and every community need to see this for what it is, not only a public health crisis but a personal one," Nancy Hale, president and CEO of Operation UNITE, said in a statement.
"Those who are lost or who are suffering are our friends, family members and neighbors. No one is immune to the effects of this horrific epidemic."