Each week we hear more candidates announcing their presidential campaigns for 2020. However, Elizabeth Warren is the only candidate that has proposed a way to combat the devastating opiate crisis.
As Senator of Massachusetts, Warren has been known for her public stances on Wall Street and big banks, and while Massachusetts has been one of the hardest hitting states with the crisis, it has clearly influenced her decision to promote ways to combat the epidemic. In 2014, the state had the second highest rate of opioid-related hospitalizations in the country. In 2017, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health noted that close to 2,000 residents died from an opioid overdose.
In recent years Warren has urged the Center for Disease Control and Prevention to expand research on alternative painkillers. She’s even called out President Donald Trump’s administration for its weak response, pushing a government watchdog agency to investigate the administration in October of 2018.
“Communities are desperately in need of more help to address the opioid epidemic. President Trump, as this report shows, has broken his promises to do his part,” Warren said in a statement. “I’ve asked this administration time and time again to show what actions they are taking to meaningfully address this crisis. No response. To me, it looks like empty words and broken promises. Hand-waving about faster paperwork and speeding up a few grants is not enough – the Trump Administration needs to do far more to stop the opioid epidemic.”
The CARE Act
In 2018, the presidential hopeful introduced a bill to congress on the issue. Along with Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), Warren announced the Comprehensive Addiction Resources Emergency (CARE) Act. In the proposed legislature, the bill would authorize $100 billion over a 10 year period to battle drug addiction in states and organizations to boost spending on treatment, harm reduction services, and prevention programs.
“Our communities are on the front lines of the epidemic, and they’re working hard to fight back,” Warren told Vox. “But they can’t do it alone. They can’t keep nibbling around the edges.”
According to some experts, the CARE Act is one of the only plans presented with the potential to make a difference. Keith Humphreys, a drug policy expert at Sanford University noted that Warren’s bill “is the only one that really grasps the nettle of how big the problem is. Whatever else people might say about it, this is the first thing that really recognizes that the opioid crisis is a massive public health problem, like AIDS, and is not going to be solved by a tweak here, a tweak there,” he adds.
While the $100 billion doesn’t just all go to one place, the breakdown of the act divides the funding to states, territories, local governments and nonprofit organizations. Still using grants, part of the funds would be spread out to provide innovative treatment models. Another amount would be used to expand access to the opioid overdose antidote, naloxone. Money would also be dedicated to research, surveillance, and training for health care staff – providing a bigger guarantee to treatment providers on the ground.
Sarah Wakeman, an addiction medicine doctor and medical director at the Massachusetts General Hospital Substance Use Disorder Initiative tells Vox that the act, “recognizes the scope of the overdose crisis and the need for a significant increase in funding to take effective treatment and interventions to scale.”
Additionally, the bill calls for flexibility. For instance, the bill isn’t limited to addiction treatment. As long as there’s evidence a program is reducing overdose deaths and doesn’t violate the law, harm reduction services such as needle exchange programs are not out of the question.
A Great Start To The End
So far, the bill has not moved far through Congress. Receiving 81 cosponsors in the house and zero cosponsors in the senate, Warren and Cummings plan to tweak the act and reintroduce it within the next couple of months. Warren notes that the bill won’t solve the health crisis overnight, but can become a great start.
Warren has repeatedly highlighted the Trump administration’s failures in the Senate and on the presidential campaign trail. “The Trump administration has treated this crisis like a photo op,” she told Vox. “They talk a good game and produce nothing.”
In comparison, no other proposal from federal lawmakers has come close to the CARE Act. The Trump administration declared a public health emergency in 2017 but according to a report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO), it found the declaration allowed for only little.
“Resources make a difference,” Warren said. “Not strong words. Not photo ops. But real money. Without real resources, the opioid crisis will continue to grow.”