By U.S. Rep. Morgan Griffith
The coronavirus outbreak has escalated in the United States, with 559 confirmed cases at the time of this writing. As a member of the Subcommittee on Health of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, I have been receiving regular briefings on the topic from the public officials and medical professionals responding to the outbreak.
On March 4, the House passed a $7.8 billion supplemental spending bill providing additional resources to fight coronavirus. It was a “clean” bill, meaning unrelated provisions, including an extension of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), were excluded.
These funds will go toward making tests more available, treatments and vaccine development, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
At this time, no cases have been confirmed in Southwest Virginia (three in Northern Virginia), but events have been cancelled out of caution. I had looked forward to attending an upcoming event honoring women veterans at the Salem VA Medical Center, but organizers understandably called it off to protect older veterans from the coronavirus.
Panic is not called for, but appropriate precautions are. Stay away from people who are sick, avoid touching the face, and wash your hands. They are simple but essential preventative techniques. You can stay up to date on the latest at the CDC’s website, CDC.gov.
Substance abuse continues to pose a threat to the health and well-being of our communities. Although in 2018, the most recent year data is available, drug overdose deaths nationwide declined by 4.1 percent, the rate of overdose deaths due to synthetic opioids such as fentanyl increased.
Further, there has been a surge in deaths due to psychostimulants such as methamphetamine. From 2012 to 2018, the death rate due to this category of substances increased nearly five times.
Increasing meth use is not just a national problem. Law enforcement and health officials in Southwest Virginia have observed a rise in meth here. Once a problem due to users making it at home for their own consumption, meth has surged this time because transnational drug cartels headquartered in Mexico are producing it on an industrial scale and trafficking it across the border into our country.
Congress has passed significant legislation in recent years to tackle substance abuse, including the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act in 2016 and the SUPPORT Act in 2018. The Energy and Commerce Committee has been at the center of the action, and we continue to look at what needs to be done.
The Subcommittee on Health met on March 3 for a legislative hearing on several bills to fight substance abuse. We looked at fourteen bills, including one I had introduced, H.R. 4812, the Ensuring Compliance Against Drug Diversion Act.
This bill terminates the controlled substance registration of any registrant that dies, ceases legal existence, discontinues business or professional practice, or surrenders registration. A registrant who ceases legal existence or discontinues business is required to notify the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). Also, registrants must receive written consent from the DEA in order to assign or transfer a registration.
Nine witnesses on two separate panels offered testimony on my bill and the others. They included representatives from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the DEA, medical professionals, and advocates for those struggling with or recovering from substance abuse.
These witnesses shed light on the various problems. For instance, we heard about the availability of counterfeit Adderall. Adderall has a legitimate medical purpose, but the version available on the street is of a much higher strength.
At a roundtable discussion I led at UVA Wise on March 6, local health care professionals, law enforcement officials, and other stakeholders discussed the topic and shared their specific needs and concerns regarding our region with Jim Carroll, Director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, commonly called the country’s “drug czar.”
Director Carroll and I also met with a representative from the Health Wagon, a nonprofit providing medical services, including substance abuse treatment, to underserved populations in our region.
At both meetings, we discussed the most urgent drug threats facing Southwest Virginia as well as the necessity for more treatment opportunities to get help to the people that need it.
Substance abuse is a tragedy that affects many individuals and families. It is our responsibility to reduce the availability of illicit drugs, increase awareness of their dangers, and assist those struggling with addiction toward recovery.
For questions, concerns, or comments, contact my Abingdon office at 276-525-1405, my Christiansburg office at 540-381-5671, my Washington office at 202-225-3861 or via at www.morgangriffith.house.gov.