In support of President Biden’s Unity Agenda efforts to beat the overdose epidemic, Dr. Gupta makes back-to-school push with families, educators, and local officials discussing the dangers of substance use, the life-saving effects of naloxone, and the critical importance of supporting our nation’s youth
Seattle, WA – As part of President Biden’s Unity Agenda efforts to bring all Americans together and support a whole-of-society response to beat the overdose epidemic, White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) Director Dr. Gupta traveled to Washington state last week to meet with students, families, school administrators, and local leaders for a series of back-to-school events.
“As we head back into the school year, there is no better time to ensure our nation’s young people have the resources and support they need to stay healthy and thrive. At a time when our nation’s youth are facing an unprecedented behavioral health crisis, and the drug supply is deadlier than it’s ever been, it’s critical for parents, students, and educators to know the risks of substance use and what they can do to stay safe,” said Dr. Gupta. “The Biden-Harris Administration is committed to preventing youth substance use, treating addiction, supporting recovery efforts, and reducing overdose deaths through historic investments and actions across the country. We are working hard to raise awareness about the dangers of fentanyl and importance of life-saving interventions like naloxone, and look forward to continuing to work with state, local, and federal partners to tackle this urgent crisis together.”
On Tuesday, Dr. Gupta joined Congresswoman Kim Schrier, M.D. for her second annual back-to-school town hall focused on the dangers of fentanyl. During the town hall, Dr. Gupta highlighted the Biden-Harris Administration’s work to increase awareness of the overdose epidemic and prevent youth substance use.
“The back-to-school fentanyl town hall is the third fentanyl event I have hosted this month to highlight the grave danger of this drug and how we can protect our community. I am grateful to Dr. Rahul Gupta for his leadership on this issue and for joining us in Issaquah to answer questions and concerns from students and parents in our community as we head into the new school year,” said Rep. Schrier, M.D.
On Wednesday, Dr. Gupta and King County Executive Dow Constantine toured the Interagency Recovery Academy, Washington state’s only publicly funded recovery school. The King County Department of Community and Human Services supports behavioral health outreach and recovery activities at the Recovery Academy by contributing state and federal funding. After the tour, Dr. Gupta participated in a roundtable discussion with students, parents of alumni, and faculty to learn about the work being done to offer critical support for young people in recovery and ensure they can live healthy and fulfilling lives.
“Before the pandemic young people faced growing mental health challenges, especially with anxiety and depression, and COVID-19 has only exacerbated these trends. This is true in big cities and small towns, and is a critical issue that I hear about here at home in King County and across the country as co-chair of the Commission on Mental Health and Wellbeing of the National Association of Counties,” said Executive Constantine. “That is why it is so important that every level of government work together to ensure that the full continuum of behavioral health treatment and services is available – from prevention and early intervention, to crisis care, to residential treatment, educational opportunity and more. I want to thank Dr. Gupta and the White House for hearing directly from our young people at both the Interagency Recovery Academy and at Highline High School about behavioral health needs. I’m committed to deepening investments in our community behavioral health system, addressing the stigma that keeps people from getting help, and amplifying the voices of recovery who show by their example that, with the right supports, treatment works and people do recover. Together, we can help meet youth where they are and expand our response to their needs.”
Later in the afternoon, Dr. Gupta convened a roundtable discussion with Washington State Secretary of Health Dr. Umair Shah, King County Director of Public Health Dr. Faisal Khan, public health and public safety officials, school administrators, families, and students on the risks of youth substance use, including the dangers of illicit fentanyl and counterfeit pills, evidence-based primary prevention efforts, and the life-saving effects of naloxone. Dr. Gupta underscored Governor Inslee’s leadership in addressing overdoses in Washington.
“With a new school year getting underway, we were privileged to welcome Dr. Gupta to King County to share the many local efforts to prevent substance use among youth. For example, thanks to Best Starts for Kids levy funding, Public Health increased access to School-Based Health Centers around our region,” said Dr. Faisal Khan, Director of Public Health – Seattle & King County. “Young people are over 20 times more likely to access mental health services at school-based health centers, and supporting youth mental health is critical for preventing the negative impacts from substance use – and preventing it in the first place. We appreciated hearing Dr. Gupta’s reflections on promising approaches that he is seeing in other communities across the U.S.”
The United States is experiencing an unprecedented youth behavioral health crisis: rates of depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts among young people are on the rise, and so are adolescent deaths from drug poisoning. By late 2021, the number of adolescents dying from drug poisoning each month had more than doubled, with 84% of these deaths involving illicit fentanyl, including fake prescription pills.
The Biden-Harris Administration has made supporting the nation’s youth and strengthening their well-being a top priority. During his first State of the Union address, President Biden announced tackling the mental health crisis and beating the overdose epidemic as two key pillars of his Unity Agenda, focused on issues where all Americans can come together and make progress for the nation. Over the past two years, the Biden-Harris Administration has taken historic actions to increase access to critical public health services, address substance use, crack down on drug trafficking, improve public safety, and save lives.