How to combat substance abuse during COVID-19
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The COVID-19 pandemic has affected the lives of nearly every American and caused an untold number of tragedies across our country. Sadly, a preexisting national epidemic has spiked during COVID-19: Substance abuse.

Data from the Overdose Detection Mapping Application Program has revealed that the national trend of overdoses has increased “18 percent in March compared with last year, 29 percent in April, and 42 percent in May.”

It’s clear that the increase in overdoses is partially due to the disrupted drug trade and the economic turmoil caused by the virus. But it’s also likely that measures used to combat the pandemic, such as long-term isolation, have unintentionally created environments of increased stress which has led to an increase in substance misuse, abuse and overdose.

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Fortunately, there are community coalitions across the nation, funded by the Drug-Free Communities Support Program, which -- by virtue of their comprehensive, multi-sector approach to solving and addressing local drug issues -- are taking on the increased challenges created by COVID-19.

These coalitions, like YSUP Rowan in my district, are uniquely able to deal with emerging drug trends, including those posed by the pandemic, because they can create data-driven, coordinated, local responses to them. For example, YSUP Rowan has implemented evidence-based strategies to address teen vaping by using materials and social media conceived and developed by their Youth Council.

They have also coordinated and promoted medication take back events, because local data indicates that young people who misuse prescription medications obtain those drugs in their own homes or from relatives.

Coalitions like this are effective around our country. A coalition located in Idaho Falls, Idaho called Community Youth in Action uses grant funds from the Drug-Free Communities Program for evidenced-based practices to reduce youth alcohol, marijuana and prescription drug abuse. Some of their methods include providing leadership opportunities for kids, enhancing resilience skills and reducing access to harmful substances.

The California-based Imperial Valley Drug Free Communities Coalition uses a multi-strategy approach to reduce youth substance abuse. This includes increasing awareness among young adults of the harmful effects of marijuana and alcohol use, equipping youth with tools and information to be leaders of change in their communities, and making it more difficult to access harmful substances.

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To that end, a national evaluation of the Drug-Free Communities program found that DFC coalitions have achieved significant reductions in youth substance misuse across all substances that were targeted, including alcohol, tobacco, marijuana and prescription drug use. Bottom line, these coalitions get results.

But they are also facing a challenge beyond COVID-19. Drug-Free Communities program grantees are required to match from 100 to 150 percent of their federal funding. This requirement is in place to ensure the commitment of local communities to support coalitions and to sustain their work after federal support ends.

During normal times, cash or in-kind services serve as this local match. However, during this year’s shelter-in-place, public gathering and physical distancing restrictions have severely limited the ability of coalitions to meet the match requirement, which means they would receive less funding next year for their work.

That’s why I recently introduced a bipartisan bill called the Drug-Free Communities Support Act along with Rep. Harley RoudaHarley Edwin RoudaCalifornia was key factor in House GOP's 2020 success Here are the 17 GOP women newly elected to the House this year Rundown of the House seats Democrats, GOP flipped on Election Day MORE (D-Calif.). This legislation would give the administrator of the Drug-Free Communities Support Program the authority to waive the matching requirement on DFC grantees during the period of the current public health emergency.

Substance abuse has wreaked havoc on thousands of people, damaged families, and devastated communities across the country. Its cost, not unlike COVID-19, can be measured in lost dreams and lost potential; in the financial and labor burdens on first responders, health care providers and human service organizations; and ultimately, in the tragic loss of human life. I’m proud to support an initiative that will make it easier for coalitions across the country to continue their heroic efforts to reduce substance abuse.

Ted BuddTheodore (Ted) Paul BuddThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Mastercard - Barr splits with Trump on election; pardon controversy North Carolina GOP congressman tests positive for COVID-19 North Carolina's Mark Walker expected to announce Senate bid MORE represents North Carolina’s 13th District.