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Incoming Health and Human Services Administration Includes Addiction, Outreach Experts

by Sam Leibowitz-Lord

Congress continues to vet and approve nominees to Joe Biden’s incoming presidential administration, including key positions within the Center for Disease Control and the federal Department of Health and Human Services. For those in recovery, these two organizations stand on the frontlines of research, treatment, and outreach, putting billions of dollars in addiction studies on the line.

The Biden administration has already filled key positions in Health and Human Services, including naming California representative Xavier Becerra as Health Secretary. As a representative, Becerra was a key player in the formation of the Affordable Care Act, and he later led California’s class-action lawsuit against the makers of opioid drugs. Becerra has a long history of creating healthcare policy, from the childcare protections passed in 2007 to chairing task forces on the national response to COVID-19. 

Becerra has also faced criticism, however, for his last-minute attempt to pass legislation that would have blocked future settlements with opioid manufacturers in California. Becerra defended his effort as part of a wide-ranging, complex deal with opioid manufacturers that will ultimately provide $16 billion to help Californians in recovery, regardless of future litigation. The bill failed, and Becerra’s efforts were defended by the California Attorney General’s Office as a necessary and non-political step in a democratic arbitration process. The American Medical Association endorsed Becerra’s nomination as well, citing his experience on the forefront of state and federal healthcare policy.

Becerra is not the only member of the incoming administration with experience in substance use recovery. New Jersey native and former NJ-HHS secretary Carole Johnson has been nominated to lead a key White House COVID taskforce, suggesting the new government’s COVID response will re-integrate key sectors of public health through the federal government. Johnson’s swathe of experience working with some of the state’s most vulnerable populations, including the homeless, those in recovery, and those with disabilities, has led to New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy endorsing Biden’s COVID response within the first seven days of his presidency. 

New Jersey was one of the first states to experience the full brunt of the epidemic in March 2020, and continues to struggle with COVID numbers in its densely populated urban centers. Nearby New York has made distributing the vaccine to marginalized communities a priority, with Governor Andrew Cuomo specifically calling for addiction treatment centers to be priority vaccine distribution sites. Many hope both New Jersey and the federal government will work together through Johnson’s position to organize a similar humanitarian response.

Disclaimer: The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the Center of Alcohol & Substance Use Studies