When there’s the political will, there tends to be a political way to accomplish the impossible. It appears this finally may be the case with the nation’s long-ignored epidemic of heroin and prescription opioid addiction.
Spending in most states on drug treatment and prevention measures is woefully inadequate. On Feb. 2, the Obama administration unveiled a plan to ramp up spending to help prevent abuse and treat it when it occurs, and to expand patient access to the overdose-reversal drug, naloxone, and other drugs proven to curb addiction.
Nationwide, about 2.2 million people need treatment for opioid abuse, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. They live in small cities, rural communities and the suburbs. This epidemic affects every social and economic strata. Only 1 million manage to get the treatment they need.
To change this, the president will ask Congress for a fiscal year investment of $1.1 billion over two years – a budget request that, in normal times, would be an exercise in futility. But this is a politically charged election year that’s anything but normal.
The New Hampshire primary is coming up, and New Hampshire has been particularly ravaged by drugs. It has one of the highest rates of fatal opioid overdoses in the country.
That means a whole lot of voters in New Hampshire want to talk about drug addiction. They want to know what the men and women running for president can do to help. They want to know what those in Congress can do about it, too – and for good reason.
More Americans die from drug overdoses now than from car crashes. In 2014, that was about 47,000 people. Most took opioid painkillers prescribed by a doctor; many died from heroin, the cheaper alternative.
New Hampshire might have the dubious distinction of being the poster child for this epidemic, but the same drugs have taken hold of communities across the country, including thousands of rural and suburban enclaves in California.
New Hampshire has one of the highest rates of fatal opioid overdoses in the country. That means a whole lot of voters in New Hampshire want to talk about drug addiction.
The number of drug overdoses recently hit a new high here, with about 4,500 Californians dying in 2014 compared to about 1,500 in 2002 – again, the vast majority from opioids. More than twice as many Californians die from drug overdoses than are murdered.
That’s why we’re hopeful the Obama administration can get a lot of what it wants from Congress; people want to see a serious effort to combat opioid addiction.
If not, lawmakers might go to one of the other bipartisan solutions on the table. Among them is a bill from Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, called the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act.
One could lament that the Obama administration and Congress are acting now only because it’s politically expedient. More than the politics of why, what matters is that we’re facing an emergency with this seemingly unstoppable epidemic of lethal drug addiction.
What matters is that something gets done.