Sen. Elizabeth Warren: We must do more to address the opioid epidemic

For the Monitor
Published: 5/9/2019 12:20:24 AM

In March, I traveled to New Hampshire’s North Country to hear from those fighting tooth and nail against the opioid epidemic.

Some were service providers, or loved ones of those struggling with addiction, and some were fighting addiction themselves, looking for ways to stay the course. These communities are fighting back, but they can’t do it alone. The government needs to step up. That’s why I have a plan to provide real resources to the places hardest hit by the crisis.

My bill has been endorsed by more than 95 members of Congress, and leading advocates and experts agree: It’s the best bill in Congress to meet the urgency of this moment and beat back this epidemic.

My first stop was at the Friendship House in Bethlehem, a residential program providing a safe haven for people on a pathway to recovery, where I talked to people who are on the front lines of the epidemic every day.

Amy Meunier, a member of the clinical staff, talked to us about how recovery centers are fighting back to defeat the epidemic. Ryan, a current patient, showed me around the facility and spoke passionately about the importance of safe spaces like the Friendship House for his own recovery. We were also joined by Shannon, a mother who has successfully completed the program and wants nothing more than to be able to take care of her baby girl and put addiction behind her.

In Littleton, where I held a community conversation on the crisis, I was joined by Tony, a former resident at the Friendship House, and medical professionals and advocates who are working day and night to address this epidemic. I was moved by Tony, his journey to become 15 months sober, and the resilience of all of the Friendship House’s residents. Now our federal government must do more to help support them.

Right now, fewer than one in 10 Americans suffering from addiction have access to the medical treatment they need. While communities across the country suffer and families look for help to support their loved ones, Washington nibbles around the edges instead of confronting the issue head-on. We must recognize that addiction is a medical issue and not a moral failing – and it’s time that we take real action to tackle the opioid epidemic, providing treatment to those who need it and investing in the science that will help us fight back.

That’s why on Wednesday I re-introduced the Comprehensive Addiction Resources Emergency (CARE) Act with Rep. Elijah Cummings. Our legislation would provide $100 billion in federal funding over the next decade for states like New Hampshire that are hardest hit, giving communities the tools they need to take on the epidemic. It combines federal funding with local decision-making, allowing communities like Manchester and Littleton to decide how the dollars should be spent to address their most urgent prevention, treatment and recovery needs. And it’s based on science, not stigma – recognizing the epidemic we are confronting is a disease and treating it like the public health crisis that it is.

My bill also acknowledges that this crisis didn’t happen overnight and it didn’t happen on its own. Big drug companies raked in billions of dollars in profits while pushing addictive opioids and lying about the harm they cause. One example: the Sackler family. They owned and ran Purdue Pharmaceuticals and got rich selling OxyContin they knew was addictive. I would make it easier for us to hold corporate executives at companies that fuel the epidemic accountable for their actions.

Under my plan, every single person would get the care they need. We’ll pay for it all with my ultra millionaire tax on the richest 75,000 families in America. The Sacklers and their heirs can afford to pay a bit more to defeat the crisis they played a role in creating.

It’s time for elected leaders to show the same courage that people like Ryan, Tony, Shannon and Amy show every day.

New Hampshire is making progress fighting this epidemic, but we must do more. We need to provide significant federal support to help cities and towns fight back against a crisis that has damaged lives and communities. No matter what state you are in, whether you’re middle class, wealthy or poor, or you live near a farm or big skyscrapers, this crisis affects you. Americans are counting on us. It’s time for us to act.

(Elizabeth Warren represents Massachusetts in the U.S. Senate and is a Democratic candidate for president.)




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