More people are now dying in America from opioid overdose than shootings or car accidents. This is personal for me, as my own father struggled with addiction to prescription drugs, non-prescription drugs and alcohol before his death when I was 17. I know how these tragedies ripple through the generations of a family. I understand how addiction interacts with underemployment and access to affordable health care and housing in an ecosystem of despair. Our 3rd District is sadly a hotspot of opioid addiction and death by overdose. Heroic efforts in our communities often hinge on only a few volunteers, charity work by companies, or the year to year politics on Beacon Hill. We, like communities around the country, need a sustained federal plan beyond the words of an emergency declaration by Donald Trump with real resources to tackle this epidemic.
My initial proposals:
Improve federal support to the interdiction of illegal opioids: We must build on the success of Rep. Tsongas in passing the INTERDICT Act and provide advanced fentanyl detection equipment to not only Customs and Border Protection but to the U.S. Post Office and other entities. In the Intelligence Community, I worked to interdict the supply of weapons to war zones and terrorist groups for 13 years, and I will use that experience to help advocate for effective analytic tools for counter-drug task forces.
Get serious and treat this as a public health issue on the scale of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, by supporting integrated “wrap-around” services: The opioid epidemic is a national problem that knows no local or state boundaries, and effective treatment of addiction requires an end to a patchwork approach to treatment, education, supportive housing, transportation, healthcare and employment. Federal funding can ensure these wrap-around services are properly integrated to enable people seeking treatment and recovery to find all they need in one place or point of contact. We must model a robust effort from the ground up on the scale of the Ryan White funding program provided for HIV/AIDS treatment.
Enhance prevention efforts by standing up to the lobbyists and restoring accountability for prescription drug distributors: In 2016, Congress succumbed to industry lobbyists and weakened the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)’s enforcement efforts against unscrupulous drug distribution companies supplying corrupt doctors and “pill mills”. I’ll be on the people’s payroll, not the lobbyists’, and I will vote to restore these authorities.
Make alternatives to opioids for chronic and severe pain management easily available and affordable: I know from my own experience with a ruptured spinal disc how comparatively easy it is for patients to get prescription opioid painkillers – yet my physicians and I had to routinely fight insurance bureaucracy to justify physical therapy visits. The federal government should immediately use the purchasing power of the Federal Employee Health program and other vehicles to make non-drug alternative evidence-based therapies more available to patients suffering with chronic and severe pain with minimal co-pays. This must also be a part of a future Medicare for All program.