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HUNTINGTON — On the eve of the start of National Recovery Month, President Joe Biden renewed his dedication to those who have been affected by substance use disorder.

The renewed commitment comes after Dr. Rahul Gupta’s August visit to West Virginia, where the director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy saw how federal dollars are affecting the recovery infrastructure locally.

HUNTINGTON — On the eve of National Recovery Month, United States President Joe Biden renewed his dedication to those who have or are still struggling with substance use disorder.

The renewed commitment comes after an August visit to West Virginia by Dr. Rahul Gupta, the director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, who participated in events ranging from roundtable discussions to boots-on-the-ground visits to people in recovery in Huntington with the area’s Quick Response Team.

Gupta, Biden, Second Gentleman Douglas Emhoff and others were set Wednesday to meet with people who lost family members to substance use at The White House to hear personal stories. Gupta said the administration can only accomplish ending the crisis by learning from families who have actually suffered and experienced it hands-on.

“We’re looking forward to that, in a way that to celebrate this, but also then to recommit ourselves to the president’s view and vision of ensuring that we are working to end the opioid crisis,” he said.

In a proclamation Wednesday declaring National Recovery Month, Biden said his administration is working to ensure achieving and sustaining recovery is within reach for every American.

“We can do this. We have to do this. We’ll make America safer,” he said.

Nearly $22 billion has been secured from Congress to support prevention, treatment, harm reduction and recovery, the proclamation said. About 100 coalitiations in West Virginia have been funded a total of $93 million for the 2023 fiscal year so far, personnel with The White House said.

On a different side of the same coin, Biden also called for more federal funding to better equip law enforcement agencies with resources needed to target drug trafficking at the border and to disrupt traffickers’ financial networks.

“We owe it to the loved ones we have lost to overdose and addiction to ensure that fewer harmful substances — and particularly illegally manufactured synthetic drugs — reach our communities and that people have greater access to mental health and substance use disorder services,” he said.

During a speech in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania Tuesday, Biden discussed the Safer American Plan, which calls for tougher penalties for fentanyl trafficking and to reduce gun violence in America.

The plan said drug suppliers have found a loophole to alter the chemical structure of fentanyl to avoid tough penalties. The Drug Enforcement Administration and Congress temporarily closed the loophole and Biden’s plan seeks to permanently schedule any fentaly-related substance as Schedule I, the most restricted schedule of drugs.

Gupta said the administration has to rise up to the challenge and recommit itself while realizing the opioid crisis is a bipartisan issue to fully fund Biden’s ask of $42 billion for this year’s budget.

“Every time these grants are announced, especially like state opioid response plans and others like that through HHS, West Virginia definitely utilizes (those funds well) — I know that because I was part of it — to ensure that people are getting the benefit,” he said.

The top priority of the administration is to save lives and the next is to connect people to treatment, Gupta said while pointing to Huntington’s Quick Response Team.

“I got to see people who were saved through these types of programs,” he said. “The combination of EMS, social worker, or faith based person, as well as law enforcement, the dynamics and importance of that and building that trust and engaging communities where people are is so critical.”

Gupta also pointed to West Virginia Health Right in Charleston, where the former West Virginia resident has done charity work for 15 years and see first hand people in recovery making personal connections.

With more than 23 million Americans in recovery right now, Gupta said it is important to reach their needs, as well. He said recovery isn’t just about treatment, it’s about housing, transportation, child care, food security, economic development and more. Gupta said the president is focused on making sure those resources came from HUD and other areas.

“Those are the things that the president works really hard to do,” he said. “This administration works really hard to make sure that we’re making meaningful, consequential improvements in people’s lives.”

The United States life expectancy dropped for the second consecutive year in 2021, falling nearly a year from 2020, according to a government report released Wednesday. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials blamed COVID-19 for about half the decline in 2021, but the other on long-standing problems like drug overdoses, heart disease and more, a report from the Associated Press said.

Gupta said the public is living in an unprecedented historic time due to the combination of pandemics, pre-existing overdose and poison public health crisis, along with mental health challenges. He said it is important to rise the challenge and provide resources communities like West Virginia desperately need.

“While it’s tragic, it also allows us to recommit ourselves as Americans as West Virginians to make sure that we’re doing what we need to be doing, which is getting evidence based, data driven policies and resources and programs back into the communities,” he said.

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