Getting Serious About the Opioid Epidemic

As the opioid epidemic continues to tear apart families across Ohio, I welcome the recent boost in federal funding to help counter the crisis. An additional $6 billion spread over the next two years will help, as will the allocation of of $150 million of that money in grant support for Ohio and other states that have disproportionately borne the brunt of the opioid epidemic. The efforts of representatives, like Marcy Kaptur, and Senator Sherrod Brown played a large role in securing this funding; however, I am sure that they too would recognize the reality that this first step is not nearly enough.

Recognizing Reality

Experts tell us that combatting a public health crisis of this magnitude will require tens of billions of dollars, far more than Republican leaders in Congress and state legislatures have been willing to support. But with so many people dying every day, we cannot treat this crisis as a side note in an oversized spending bill.

The opioid epidemic has created a true emergency for Ohio, and neither state or local government is equipped to cope with the magnitude of the disaster alone. The situation is a lot like being hit by a major hurricane or similar natural disaster. However, while natural disasters are a one time occurrence, the opioid crisis continues to wreak havoc, and to claim more and more lives. Yet in the event of a natural disaster Congress is willing to allocate tens of billions of dollars to recovery efforts. Recovery efforts after Hurricane Katrina totaled over $115 billion, efforts after Sandy totaled over $50 billion, and just this past year Congress allocated an immediate $15 billion dollars to communities recovering from hurricane Harvey with a total support package of over $90 billion coming as part of the spending bill. In the same bill, the fight against the opioid epidemic received only $6 billion.

What’s Holding Us Back?

So, why is our Republican-led Congress unwilling to tackle this opioid crisis more forcefully, even as the death toll continues to mount? Why isn’t Congress’ response to the human tragedy of a drug epidemic at least as robust as to hurricane damage? The level of support following major hurricanes is totally appropriate, given the severity of the damage these major storms have caused, but what about the comparable havoc, devastation, and staggering loss of life wrought by the opioid epidemic? In doling out a fraction of the funding needed, our Republican-led Congress has failed to recognize that the federal government must address the opioid epidemic with the same degree of commitment as it has natural disasters.

What about our own representative? Jim Jordan is a true outlier! He voted against federal support communities in Texas and Puerto Rico devastated by hurricanes this last year. And, unsurprisingly, even with a disaster on his doorstep, he not only did nothing to secure federal dollars to counter the opioid crisis, he actually voted “NO” on the recent funding bill that grants Ohio limited funds to combat the crisis. His stated belief that parents, churches and schools are the key to containing this epidemic is naïve. That kind of thinking wouldn’t answer the needs created by a deadly hurricane, and it’s no more helpful to Ohioans dealing with the death and destruction caused by opioids. As chairman of a key subcommittee of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Jordan could have convened hearings and put an early spotlight on Ohio’s opioid crisis, and even today he could take leadership by pressing the Trump Administration to implement critical recommendations adopted by the President’s opioid commission. But Mr. Jordan is simply AWOL on this, and so many other issues! And, in addition to all this Jim had fought against necessary medicaid expansions that cover treatment for 4 in 10 non-elderly adults fighting opioid addiction. Jim Jordan’s hateful attitude towards government has blinded him to the needs of struggling communities both in Houston and Puerto Rico, as well as right here in the fourth district.

My Fight

That failure of representation is why I’m running to represent the fourth district in Congress. My highest priority would be to work with leaders like Sherrod Brown and Marcy Kaptur to substantially boost the level of funding allocated to fighting the opioid epidemic here in Ohio and across the nation. We must demand funding and implementation of the 56 proposals recommended by the President’s Opioid Commission that have been set aside since November. Some of these proposals don’t even require any additional money, including plans to simply enforce laws that are already on the books. The only thing holding these plans back is the Congressional will to act. Furthermore, these proposals could go a long way in targeting key measures to streamline federal funding towards addiction and recovery centers. These efforts are part of a larger call by experts to spend tens of billions of dollars on treatment in the coming year. We’ve seen how recovery efforts can be made following hurricanes. Now it is time to demand the same response for the most critical issue families in Ohio face today.

Let’s be clear, a major commitment to federal funding is only one step. Not unlike the challenge of allocating funds to respond to the devastation caused by a major natural disaster, Ohio will need to develop a state-level plan to wage a successful war on opioids. This plan must provide for reinforcing critical systems – such as in the areas of prevention, treatment, drug courts, housing, protective services, and education -- systems that are currently overwhelmed by the crisis. It should involve continued medicaid expansions which can continue to cover the treatment of 4 of every 10 non-elderly adults with an opioid addiction. That planning should also provide for fostering establishment of new programs to support families who are now broken up as a result of addiction. All of these local efforts are key to a full recovery, but they are strengthened by federal support.

What is all too evident, however, is that we will not defeat the opioid epidemic with the weak medicine Republican leadership is prescribing. We need new leadership in the House of Representatives to win this battle. We need a representative who will work with community leaders to bring funding back to the fourth district, not someone who votes against that funding.

Make no mistake. This epidemic is deadly, and right now we are NOT winning. Our district needs a champion fighting for you and for your families. I’m running for Congress to be that champion for you. With your help, I will make curing the opioid epidemic a national priority.

Janet GarrettComment