President Joe Biden will use his second State of the Union address to announce a renewed federal effort to combat the illicit fentanyl trade that has made opioid overdoses a leading cause of death among young Americans in recent years.
Mr Biden’s speech to a joint session of Congress comes as the new House Republican majority has taken aim at his administration’s immigration policies, which they claim have permitted trafficking across the US-Mexico border to flourish at the cost of Americans’ lives.
Dr Rahul Gupta, the head of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, said during a call with reporters on Tuesday that the opioid crisis “is affecting just about every community in every state,” and is “driven” by abuse of fentanyl and other synthetic opioids.
“In the past year, we’ve lost more than 100,000 Americans to drug overdose or poisonings. That’s an American dying every five minutes of the hour every day. That is unacceptable, period,” he said.
The White House drug czar pointed to Customs and Border Protection seizures of roughly 15,000 pounds of the illicit drug over the last year — seizures he said denied drug traffickers approximately $9bn in profits — as evidence of the Biden administration’s success thus far in fighting against the fentanyl scourge.
He also hailed the administration’s “historic public health advances,” including actions taken over the last year to remove barriers that prevented Americans from accessing opioid treatment.
Dr Gupta said Mr Biden’s policies have driven significant progress in combatting the opioid epidemic, with the last five months showing decreases in the number of overdose deaths across the US.
“That’s almost 3,000 people who have not died, and instead are at the dinner table each night. So it is a hopeful sign. But we can’t slow down our efforts to beat this, so tonight during the State of the Union, you’re going to hear the President talk about it,” he said.
Dr Gupta said Mr Biden would pitch a “forceful approach” to target fentanyl trafficking and expand public health measures to reduce overdoses.
“This is not a red state problem or a blue state problem. This is America’s problem. And he believes it’s going to take all of us all together,” he said.
“We are going to build on the historic progress we’re making by using advanced technology to stop more fentanyl at the border and working with commercial package delivery companies to catch more packages containing fentanyl, and we’re gonna work with Congress to permanently control … related substances so we can make sure that traffickers are held accountable,” he said.
Additionally, Dr Gupta said Mr Biden would announce a new national advertising campaign with the Ad Council to “educate young people on saving lives from the dangers of fentanyl” as well as new efforts to “ensure that everyone who needs treatment for substance use disorder” can access those live-saving programs and to expand access to “live-saving medications” for opioid use disorder such as Buprenorphine and Methadone.
“By all doing all this will reduce overdose deaths and we will save more American lives,” he said.
The new anti-opioid initiatives are part of what White House Communications Director Kate Bedingfield described as a renewed focus on the “Unity Agenda” Mr Biden previously laid out in his first State of the Union speech last year.
“As the President said last year… these are issues that affect all Americans in red states and blue states,” she said, adding that Americans “are counting on their elected officials no ,matter their party, to come together and do big things”.
“In his State of Union today, the President will announce a new set of policies to continue to make progress advancing his unity agenda and deliver results for families across the country,” she added.
From news to politics, travel to sport, culture to climate – The Independent has a host of free newsletters to suit your interests. To find the stories you want to read, and more, in your inbox, click here.