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Senator Hassan Questions President Biden’s Nominees for Key Public Health Positions about Substance Misuse and Pandemic Fatigue During Committee Hearing

The Senator Questioned the President’s Nominees for Surgeon General and Assistant Secretary of Health at the Department of Health and Human Services

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Maggie Hassan (D-NH) questioned President Joe Biden’s nominees for Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy, and Assistant Secretary of Health at the Department of Health and Human Services, Dr. Rachel Levine, on the substance misuse crisis and pandemic fatigue during a hearing yesterday of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee.


To watch Senator Hassan’s questioning, click here.


Substance Misuse Crisis


“The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated what already was a devastating mental health and substance misuse crisis in our country,” Senator Hassan said. “And I am encouraged that you both have knowledge and experience in combating the opioid crisis through expanding access to substance misuse treatment and services, and working to diminish the stigma that is still too often associated, in particular, with heroin.”


Senator Hassan first questioned Dr. Levine, who led Pennsylvania’s effort to combat the opioid epidemic as its Secretary of Health, about the importance of continued, robust federal funding for states to combat the opioid crisis.


Dr. Levine told Senator Hassan, “If confirmed, I look forward to working with you, with the rest of the members of Congress, and with [the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration] on continuing the absolutely essential, sustainable funding for the opioid crisis.”


Senator Hassan next questioned Dr. Murthy, who discussed the importance of strengthening public education and reducing the stigma around addictive substances, as well as working with lawmakers to advance treatment for substance use disorder, including medication-assisted treatment, and expanding prevention programs. This week, Senator Hassan reintroduced bipartisan, bicameral legislation to help expand access to buprenorphine – a proven, medication-assisted treatment for substance misuse – by eliminating a bureaucratic hurdle currently blocking millions of highly trained health professionals from prescribing buprenorphine to their patients.


Pandemic Fatigue


Senator Hassan also questioned Dr. Murthy on pandemic fatigue and how he plans to use his platform if confirmed to help ensure that Americans continue to adhere to public health guidelines until the virus, and its variants, are under control.


“Number one, I think we do need to be consistent in our communication around the value and the importance of masks,” Dr. Murthy said. “The second thing I think is recognizing that that fatigue is real, and it’s not, I think, a reason to judge people.” Dr. Murthy also highlighted the importance of quickly distributing the COVID-19 vaccine and educating people on the benefits of getting vaccinated.