Following Sharp Spike in Virginia Drug Overdose Deaths in 2020, Spanberger Helps Introduce Bipartisan Bill to Combat Opioid Abuse Epidemic in Rural Communities

May 05, 2021

In Virginia, the CDC Projects that Drug Overdoses Rose by 40 Percent from 2019 to 2020

HENRICO, V.A. – U.S. Representative Abigail Spanberger yesterday helped introduce bipartisan legislation that would strengthen the federal response to the opioid abuse crisis, which has led to massive increases in overdose deaths in Virginia and across the country.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the United States is projected to have experienced a record number of drug overdose deaths during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. In Virginia, drug overdose deaths are expected to have risen by more than 40 percent.

The Rural Area Opioid Prevention Pilot Program Act would fully authorize the U.S. Department of Justice’s (DOJ’s) Rural Responses to the Opioid Epidemic Initiative, a pilot program that provides the agency with the resources it needs to implement community response programs in rural areas. Specifically, these programs focus on reducing opioid overdose deaths and providing alternatives to incarceration, with a simultaneous goal of promoting a shared understanding of the patterns and characteristics of local opioid use.

“During the pandemic, our nation witnessed a record number of overdose deaths — and here in Virginia, experts project that overdose deaths increased by more than 40 percent from the previous year. Behind these statistics are personal, heartbreaking stories of parents who have lost their children to the agonizing loss of overdose. As we focus on our recovery from this pandemic, I’m keeping their pleas to help other families avoid this loss in the forefront of my mind,” said Spanberger. “This bipartisan legislation makes sure the Department of Justice has the resources and support it needs to help build a pathway towards healing and recovery, especially throughout rural America, which has been particularly impacted by the substance abuse crisis. I’m proud to help introduce the Rural Area Opioid Prevention Pilot Program Act, and I am committed to building new ways for communities in Central Virginia and across the country to combat skyrocketing rates of overdose deaths.”

The Rural Area Opioid Prevention Pilot Program Act is led by U.S. Representatives Conor Lamb (D-PA-17) and Randy Feenstra (R-IA-04), and the legislation is also cosponsored by U.S. Representative Mariannette Miller-Meeks (R-IA-02)

“Like many states, Pennsylvania has seen an increase in opioid deaths during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Lamb. “While Congress has rightfully been focused on the pandemic, several reports indicate that COVID-19 has exacerbated issues with opioid use.  This smart, commonsense legislation will immediately help the communities that need it the most.”

“I am honored to lead this bipartisan effort with Rep. Lamb. The promising pilot programs included in this bill are a critical step forward as we work to curb the opioid epidemic, taking a targeted approach and ensuring rural Americans suffering from addiction have the resources they need to recover and get a second chance,” said Feenstra. “The COVID-19 pandemic has worsened opioid abuse, and it is important that we work to tackle this issue immediately.”

“Rural America has been hit hard by the opioid epidemic for years, and Iowa is no exception. The COVID-19 pandemic only made things worse, and we need to be doing more to help those fighting addiction,” said Miller-Meeks. “The Rural Area Opioid Prevention Pilot Program Act is a step in the right direction to help rural communities combat this crisis. Helping Americans take on opioid abuse and addiction is a bipartisan issue, and I am proud to partner with my colleagues to find solutions to this problem.”

Co-funded by the Bureau of Justice Assistance, the CDC, and the State Justice Institute, the Rural Responses to the Opioid Epidemic Initiative is a DOJ pilot program that integrates public safety and public health approaches and blends interagency expertise and funding to address the epidemic. The Spanberger-cosponsored, bipartisan bill would authorize and codify this program by providing the federal funding to continue building on its early successes.

Since early 2020, the Rural Responses to the Opioid Epidemic Initiative has delivered millions in federal funding to 21 rural American communities that have been on the front lines of the opioid epidemic. These programs have fostered innovative responses to gaps in prevention, treatment, and recovery services for individuals involved in the criminal justice system.  These funds have enabled rural areas to implement evidence-based solutions and best practices in a way that builds on the unique assets of each community.


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