Combating the Opioid Crisis

The devastation wrought by the opioid crisis in Pennsylvania and across the United States of America breaks my heart.

In 2016, Pennsylvania had the fourth highest rate of overdose death in the U.S. In 2017, according to Pennsylvania’s Attorney General, thirteen Pennsylvanians died on average every day due to opioids.

Since the year 2000, the rate of deaths from drug overdoses involving opioids increased 200%. In 2016, more than 63,600 people died in the U.S. from a drug overdose. Two-thirds of those deaths (more than 42,000) were caused by opioids, and at least 40% of opioid-related deaths involved prescription painkillers. More people died from opioid overdoses in 2016 than died of breast cancer, car accidents, or firearms.

Although the opioid crisis has no one cause, it’s clear a solution to the epidemic requires stemming the availability of addictive opioids and expanding access to life-saving treatment and rehabilitation services.

Over the past two decades, pharmaceutical companies have spent tens of millions of dollars marketing opioids to doctors and patients without fully disclosing their risk for addiction and abuse. At the same time, doctors have prescribed more and more opioids to patients.

Misuse of prescription painkillers has been shown to lead to further problems with drug abuse and addiction. Almost half of all opioid deaths in the U.S. now involve a prescription opioid, and some users report switching to heroin because it is cheaper and easier to get than prescription opioids.

At the same time that opioids were becoming more easily accessible, the economic downturn of 2008 and 2009 left many Americans struggling to cope with financial insecurity and the loss of full-time jobs. A study conducted by Penn State University, examining the relationship between the opioid death toll and changes in Americans’ financial well-being, found that “as incomes dropped and unemployment rose, communities suffered higher rates of opioid-related deaths.” The study also found that deaths from opioid use were correlated with diminishing farm income. In addition to reducing the availability of high-risk opioids and expanding access to treatment, tackling the opioid epidemic will also require building a fair economy for all of us, creating millions of good jobs by investing in our infrastructure, and supporting our farmers.

If elected to Congress, I will work to protect and expand access to life-saving treatment and addiction rehabilitation, increase funding for states like Pennsylvania to manage the epidemic, and hold opioids manufacturers accountable for irresponsible and misleading marketing campaigns.

  • I would ensure that Medicaid covers addiction services, whereas my opponent voted to rob low-income Americans of access to rehabilitation. Medicaid currently covers all essential health benefits, including services to treat addiction. Smucker voted for the American Healthcare Act of 2017, which would eliminate the requirement that Medicaid cover essential health benefits and threaten low-income Americans’ access to addiction treatment.
  • I would protect the investments of the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, a bill that increased funding for states to combat the opioid epidemic, including expanded opioid treatment programs and access life-saving overdose treatments.
  • I would co-sponsor the Comprehensive Addiction Resources Emergency Act of 2018, which is modeled off the bipartisan Ryan White Comprehensive AIDS Resources Emergency Act, enacted nearly three decades ago in response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Over the next 10 years, the CARE Act would provide support to areas hardest hit by the opioid epidemic, fund public health and medical research, as well as improved health professional training, and massively expand access to the overdose reversal drug naloxone and provide this life-saving medicine to states to distribute to first responders, public health departments, and the public.
  • I would co-sponsor the Opioid Crisis Accountability Act of 2018, which would prohibit drug manufacturers from marketing their product without adequately warning consumers and doctors of the risk for addiction, and hold companies liable for contributing to the opioid epidemic.

I’ll be discussing the opioid crisis at our upcoming Red Lion Town Hall for Working Families on November 2nd.