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The White House is asking Congress for more money to fight fentanyl overdoses

WASHINGTON — The White House on Thursday asked Congress for nearly $800 million in additional funding to fight drug addiction and overdoses, which killed more than 100,000 people in the US last year, according to preliminary data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The request comes during a “critical turning point,” said Dr. Rahul Gupta, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, in an interview. He said that after years of increasing overdose deaths, the trend is starting to level off.

“Like a big ship, you have to slow it down, stop it and then turn it around,” Gupta said. “And that’s exactly what we’re seeing in real time.”

He said an American dies of an overdose every five minutes, “so the urgency could never be more important right now.”

The funding request, which was first detailed to NBC News, is part of the larger call for funding from Office of Management and Budget director Shalanda Young.

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On Thursday, Young sent a letter to House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, Vice President Kamala Harris and the Democratic and Republican leaders of the House and Senate appropriations committees asking for additional funding for Ukraine aid, disaster recovery and border management.

In the letter, Young said the resources requested to manage the southwestern border include efforts to reduce the “influx” of drugs such as fentanyl across the border.

“We operate within a fundamentally broken immigration system – everyone agrees – but only Congress has the power to update our immigration and asylum laws, and we remain ready to work with Congress on solutions.” she said.

NBC News has reached out to recipients of the letter for comment.

The new drug prevention-related funding is intended to help the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security reduce the amount of fentanyl entering the U.S. and expand access to addiction treatment.

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Of the approximately $800 million, $350 million would go to HHS for prevention, support and recovery services, $50 million of which would be remitted to the Indian Health Service. $323 million would go to DHS to fund fentanyl detection at ports of entry and counter drug trafficking.

Gupta said he is “absolutely optimistic” that Congress will grant the funding.

“This is a bipartisan issue, and this is exactly why the president has made this one of the four pillars of his unity agenda, because he knows and understands that this is an issue that no individual, agency or state can solve for itself. ” he said. “This is going to require an all hands on deck approach.”

The number of drug overdose deaths will reach about 105,000 in the U.S. in 2022, relatively similar to the previous year, according to preliminary data from the CDC. Of those, the CDC predicted there were more than 82,000 opioid-related overdose deaths in the U.S.

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A 2022 CDC report found that the number of fatal drug overdoses rose 30% from 2019 to 2020, with most deaths attributable to fentanyl.

Xylazine, an animal sedative, is on the rise in fentanyl products. The monthly rate of deaths from fentanyl with xylazine peaked from 2.9% in January 2019 to 10.9% in June 2022 for 20 states and DC, according to a CDC study.

Last month, the White House released a national response plan for dealing with the drug combination. That followed the April announcement that the director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy identified the drug combination as an emerging threat.

President Joe Biden included tackling drug overdoses as part of what the administration has called its “unity agenda.” The agenda outlines four areas for dual collaboration: tackling drug overdoses, prioritizing mental health, fighting cancer, and supporting veterans.

This article was originally published on NBCNews.com

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