Congress Considers Adding $2.2B to Mental Health and Drug Programs
WASHINGTON — Rahul Gupta talked to a congressional panel Monday about patients he treated with drug overdoses.
Gupta is director of the U.S. National Drug Control Policy. He formerly worked as an internist in private practice for 25 years.
Rather than victims finding help with addictions to opioids, “Oftentimes the only time I would see people is when they were dead in my emergency room,” Gupta told the House Oversight and Reform Committee.
He was testifying on the Biden administration’s National Drug Control Strategy, which Democrats say needs to be expanded with additional mental health funding assistance.
Republicans say some of the money would be spent better with tougher border control measures to stop illegal imports of addictive drugs, such as methamphetamines and fentanyl.
The methamphetamines are most commonly traced to drug gangs in Mexico, Gupta said. Much of the powerful painkiller fentanyl comes from China.
Drug overdose deaths spiked during the COVID-19 pandemic, along with the isolation, anger and mental health problems it caused.
Last year, the drug deaths reached a record 107,000, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They are on track to a similar number this year.
The deaths rose by 30% in 2020, as the pandemic unleashed its fury in the United States and the world. They rose another 15% last year, the CDC reported.
Gupta agreed with Republicans that stopping illegal drug trade across the border was an important priority but disagreed that it should be a primary focus.
“We need to meet people where they are,” he said as he advocated for greater community outreach to find and treat drug addiction.
So far, the U.S. government’s primary response under the Biden administration’s American Rescue Plan has been a $4 billion mental health program. It allocates funds to cities and towns to help them craft their own response to drug addiction, violence and other symptoms of a mental health crisis.
Congress and the Biden administration are considering adding another $2.2 billion to the program.
“We have too many broken communities across the nation because of this crisis,” Gupta said.
Republicans said cutting off access to the drugs would be a big help in the effort.
“The fentanyl is coming across the southern border and this administration needs to do more,” said Rep. James Comer, R-Ky.
He suggested more law enforcement along the Mexican border to stop smuggling and the possibility of completing the wall started during the Trump administration.
“I don’t think it makes a lot of sense for this administration to talk about drug control when you have a border that is wide open,” Comer said.
Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., the committee chairwoman, described the National Drug Control Strategy as a balance between law enforcement and an extension of mental health care into more communities.
“We clearly need a comprehensive approach to this crisis,” she said.
The Oversight and Reform Committee held its hearing on the same day the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that prisoners convicted of cocaine offenses can seek shorter sentences under a 2018 law intended to reduce racial disparities among the inmates.
The court gave trial judges permission to resentence inmates based on a variety of factors, including some unrelated to their convictions.
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