U.S. Rep Annie Kuster

AS THE NEW Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra renews the nationwide public health emergency declaration around opioid abuse this week, Rep. Annie Kuster is asking Becerra to broaden the emergency declaration.

In a letter to Becerra, Kuster asks that the public health emergency include other drugs now driving deaths, such as cocaine and methamphetamine. This would be the 13th renewal since the opioid public health emergency was declared in October 2017.

Kuster said she also wanted to see the federal government’s approach to drug abuse address mental illness and rising mental health problems, which she said often coincide with substance-use disorders.

“We urge you to broaden its scope to allow for a strong, compassionate response to the challenges presented by the evolving drug overdose epidemic,” read Kuster’s letter, which was signed by three other House Democrats. “Additionally, we ask you to address increasing mental health needs worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic. The past year has weighed heavy on the American people.”

The letter follows Kuster’s introduction of a bill that would pay for the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone, sometimes called Narcan, and provide “good Samaritan” protections nationwide to people trying to intervene in an overdose. The bill would also continue allowing drug treatment to be provided over the phone or by videoconference, and would fund research into drug treatment.

Vaccine for vets, spouses

New England veterans who, for one reason or another, had been unable to sign up for Veterans Affairs benefits can start getting COVID-19 vaccines at VA facilities this week. Under a new law, any veteran — even those whose incomes are too high to qualify for benefits — can get a vaccine through the VA, as can veterans’ spouses and caregivers.

The law that allows the VA to vaccinate people not enrolled for VA benefits has New Hampshire ties. Sen. Maggie Hassan introduced the bill, known as the SAVE LIVES Act in the Senate, and President Joe Biden signed it into law last month.

“VA Medical Centers have played a critical role in getting veterans vaccinated, and I am thrilled that all veterans and their caregivers and spouses can now get vaccinated at the Manchester and White River Junction VA Medical Centers,” Hassan said in a statement.

“We have the vaccine doses and the capacity to ensure those newly eligible will be able to be vaccinated soon,” said Ryan Lilly, director of VA New England Healthcare System, which includes the medical centers in Manchester and White River Junction, Vt.

Those eligible under the SAVE LIVES Act to receive a vaccine can register at www.va.gov/covid-19-vaccine.

Hassan: Anti-fraud action

According to the Federal Trade Commission, COVID-19 scams have cost almost 1,500 New Hampshire residents $954,000. Hassan wants the commission to do more against the scammers, and is pushing the agency to make a plan to spend the money it got as part of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan.

In a statement, Hassan’s office said scamming spiked when Americans received stimulus checks; nationwide, COVID-19 related fraud has cost Americans almost $400 million.

In a letter to Acting Federal Trade Commission Chairwoman Rebecca Kelly Slaughter, Hassan asked how the commission plans to use the additional $30.4 million it will get from the American Rescue Plan. Hassan is also seeking information about the evolution of pandemic-related scams that have been reported to the commission, from phony COVID-19 treatments to people falsely promising quicker access to stimulus checks.

Eco-friendly points

The gargantuan Biden infrastructure proposal aims to direct infrastructure investment in a way that is meant to combat climate change. Rep. Chris Pappas will talk up some of these greener points in a Thursday morning virtual briefing convened by the New Hampshire League of Conservation Voters, an environmental group that contributed almost $20,000 to Pappas’ 2020 campaign, according to the Federal Election Commission.

A Department of Transportation appointee, Florence Chen, is set to join Pappas to discuss the infrastructure bill, along with the deputy legislative director of the BlueGreen Alliance, a group of environmental advocates and large unions advocating for job creation via investment in the combatting of climate change.

Contact Josie Albertson-Grove at jgrove@unionleader.com.