Drug misuse is a grave public health problem that requires a strategic and coordinated national response, according to a U.S. Government Accountability Office report on Thursday.
Research shows that drug misuse, including illegal drug use and prescription drug abuse, increases the need for healthcare and social services. It's also associated with higher crime rates, increased childhood trauma, decreased labor productivity and more death, including drug overdoses. Drug misuse rates increased from 15% in 2003 to 19% in 2018.
While the federal government has improved in some areas, it lacks sustained leadership and coordination from federal agencies. It also needs more resources to address the problem and better ways to measure, test and show progress, according to the government watchdog.
"Federal agencies may struggle to focus on drug misuse during the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet the pandemic could fuel contributing factors of misuse—such as unemployment—stressing the long-term need to sustain and build upon ongoing efforts," GAO said.
The Department of Labor recently reported that jobless claims spiked to a seasonally adjusted 3.28 million for the week ending March 21, shattering the previous one-week record of 695,000 claims in 1982.
GAO recommended that the Office of National Drug Control Policy develop and implement a complete National Drug Control Strategy, as prior plans were incomplete or lacked an "effective, sustained implementation." It also recommended that the Drug Enforcement Administration improve how it analyzes and uses drug transaction data to cut down on illegal sales of prescription opioids, among other recommendations.
The federal watchdog added drug misuse to its 2021 High Risk List, which "covers areas in need of transformation, or at high risk from fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement." The agency has made more than 80 recommendations to address the drug crisis since 2015, but over 60 of them haven't been implemented.
The Office of National Drug Control told GAO that it has a plan to address some of the problems with its 2020 National Drug Control Strategy.