Portman, Whitehouse say COVID-19 is complicating opioid addiction fight

Portman, Whitehouse say COVID-19 is complicating opioid addiction fight
© Getty Images

Sens. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanSchumer insists Democrats unified after chaotic coronavirus debate GOP votes in unison against COVID-19 relief bill Senate approves sweeping coronavirus measure in partisan vote MORE (R-Ohio) and Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseFeds looking at communications between lawmakers, Capitol rioters: report FBI director commits to providing Senate information after grilling from Democrat Biden nominee previews post-Trump trade agenda MORE (D-R.I.) said Thursday that the COVID-19 pandemic has further complicated efforts to win the fight against opioid and drug addiction.

Speaking at The Hill's "COVID-19 & the Opioid Epidemic" event, Portman said the U.S. had the lowest overdose rate in decades as recently as 2018, but last year saw the worst overdose rate in U.S. history.

Portman said new legislation, a follow-up to the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA) that was signed into law by former President Obama in 2016, can help address that surge.


Portman introduced CARA with Whitehouse in 2015. The measure takes a comprehensive approach to fighting the opioid epidemic.

“We have a new bill, CARA 2.0, to address some of these issues. ... Telehealth needs to be expanded, and dealing with the isolation and despair people are feeling because we’re slipping again,” Portman told The Hill's Steve Clemons.

CARA 2.0, which has bipartisan support, would increase the amount of funding authorized to support CARA’s programs and lay out new regulations to help the battle against opioid addiction.


Whitehouse, who also spoke at the event sponsored by Indivior, said the challenge of treating individuals with addiction has been exasperated by the COVID-19 pandemic and the safety protocols that have been put in place to keep people safe from the virus.

“It’s been a really tragic sidebar of COVID, and we’re going to have to work hard to get it back,” he said.

Whitehouse said Rhode Island was starting to get control of opioid deaths and cases were declining before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic reversed the trend. He said the pandemic has disrupted the organizations that conduct outreach to people in recovery, leading to a spike in deaths.

Whitehouse said there has been some delay in providing assistance to those suffering from opioid addiction in part because Americans are still moving away from the idea of blaming users for their addiction and not recognizing it as a medical condition.

He added that police officers and firefighters have increasingly begun carrying Naloxone, a narcotic overdose treatment, as part of their standard equipment, and the treatment has recently been more widely available in commercial settings.

“I think it’s getting better, but there’s continued room for improvement,” Whitehouse said.