“We look forward to working in partnership with the Biden-Harris administration to pass meaningful drug policy reforms that will shift the focus away from the criminal legal system and towards a compassionate, health-based approach,” said Maritza Perez, Director of the Office of National Affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance. “For too long, millions of Americans have been denied justice and access to the health services they need to keep themselves and their loved ones safe. People want change. We’ve heard their voices – including in this most recent election – that we should be addressing drug use differently. The new administration must act on the critical priorities we outline or risk seeing drug-related deaths rise, as they have in past administrations.”
Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will take office at a moment when the overdose crisis has already claimed 70,000 lives per year in the United States. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to further endanger the lives of vulnerable populations, particularly people who are incarcerated and people who use drugs, it is critical that the next administration work hand-in-hand with Congress and use its executive powers to save lives and provide relief, as outlined, in summary, below.
Legislative Priorities in Congress
- Pass legislation to reduce jail and prison populations in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Congress must pass the decarceration provisions found in the Heroes Act in their next COVID-19 stimulus bill. This includes measures to release vulnerable populations and those nearing release, as well as incentivizing states and localities to reduce their jail and prison populations and provide critical reentry funding. Congress must also fund and support the provision of PPE, medical care, and testing in incarcerated settings.
- Appropriate in a COVID-19 relief package, and additionally in LHHS appropriations legislation, $58 million for syringe services programs (SSPs), and other harm reduction service providers, administered through the CDC’s opioid and infectious diseases program line. The overdose crisis has worsened during the pandemic. However, the pandemic and economic downturn have jeopardized the ability of these providers to continue operations. Congress must ensure adequate funding to ensure the survival of lifesaving harm reduction services.
- Replace punitive fentanyl policies with legislation that advances a public health approach. Congress should advance legislation that funds and provides support for harm reduction services and treatment as a core response to illicit fentanyl and the worsening overdose crisis as opposed to harsher penalties—which are counterproductive, exacerbate racial disparities in the criminal legal system and mass incarceration.
- Reintroduce the MORE Act in the House and Senate and pass this bill into law. The MORE Act is on track topass in the House this year. This bill would de-classify marijuana as a controlled substance under federal law, expunge marijuana convictions, and reduce marijuana sentences. This election showed that marijuana is a winning issue. Congress needs to act.
Executive Branch Priorities
- Instruct the Department of Justice to release medically vulnerable individuals from federal detention in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and end pre-trial detention in instances where a person does not pose a threat to a specific person.
- Direct the Department of Justice (DOJ) to withdraw from litigation challenging the operation of overdose prevention centers (OPCs) and to refrain from filing new lawsuits against or from prosecuting organizations that operate OPCs that have been approved at the local or state level.
- Direct SAMHSA and the DEA to extend indefinitely the temporary changes to methadone and buprenorphine access made during the COVID-19 pandemic, including increased take-home doses and authorization to access these medications via telemedicine. These changes have helped improve access to effective treatment and must remain as the overdose crisis continues to worsen nationwide.
- Instruct the Food and Drug Administration to exempt naloxone from applicable prescription requirements, making it available as an over the counter drug.
“Finally, we must remain vigilant of alternate ways the state can inflict violence on marginalized communities and should reject mandated treatment for people who use drugs. Many of the same constructs that led to mass criminalization and incarceration are behind involuntary and coercive treatment like drug courts, including racism, stigmatization, ableism, and profit over people. We must fight these regressive policies and ensure dollars are instead being funneled to effective, evidence-based, culturally competent, and community-based harm reduction and substance use disorder treatment services,” Perez added.