Dr. Mitch Rosenthal on the Lack of a Strong Drug Czar in Washington
Dr. Mitch Rosenthal on the Importance of Focusing on the Opioid Epidemic
Dr. Mitch Rosenthal on the Impact of the Supreme Court on Battling the Opioid Crisis
ROSENTHAL REPORT - OCTOBER 2020
As Election Day approaches, this month’s Rosenthal Report explores critical issues created by the opioid epidemic, access to drug treatment and marijuana legalization amid a contentious political climate and unprecedented national crises.
WHAT DRUG CRISIS?
Over the past two decades, more than 400,000 Americans have died from drug overdose—mostly opioid-related. And fatalities are spiking again this year in more than 40 states due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet the nation’s drug crisis received only a fleeting mention in the first presidential debate when President Trump mocked Joe Biden’s son Hunter and his struggles with drug addiction. With a national viewing audience, this was a lost opportunity for either candidate to seriously address a public health issue that continues to devastate the country.
Unfortunately, the opioid crisis has become a forgotten epidemic—especially in the shadow of the coronavirus. Social distancing and lockdowns have only exacerbated the misery of addiction and the economic distress that contribute to “deaths of despair.” Perhaps the remaining debates will allow time for the candidates to tell Americans exactly what each would plan to do, including Biden’s ambitious $125 billion proposal to combat the crisis, which the Rosenthal Center heartily endorses. This is the moment to meet the challenge of the opioid epidemic not with silence but with leadership, resources and resolve.
THE COURT AND THE AFFORDABLE CARE ACT
The decade-old Affordable Care Act (ACA) expanded Medicaid coverage for drug treatment and required insurance companies to pay for it, allowing tens of thousands of Americans to receive such services for the first time. Medicaid coverage for drug treatment more than doubled between 2013 and 2017, and today roughly 1.3 million individuals receive treatment for mental-health and substance abuse disorders. But with the Senate set to consider Trump nominee Amy Coney Barrett for the Supreme Court, adding another conservative justice to the court, the future of the ACA is at risk. There is a case before the Court that could potentially overturn the Act. This would be a severe blow to addiction treatment and to treatment providers, so it is imperative that the Court upholds the law.
MARIJUANA ON THE BALLOT
In addition to the presidential contest, voters in six states will decide on initiatives to legalize medical and recreational marijuana. Were it not for a signature-gathering slowdown due to COVID19, there might have been even more cannabis reform measures on the ballot. Nevertheless, pro-pot groups are touting a new message that claims legal pot sales would generate significant tax revenue that could be used for economic recovery, but fails to take into account increases in such indirect costs such as healthcare and law enforcement.
Opponents (including the Rosenthal Center) maintain that the rush to legalization endangers public health—especially for vulnerable populations such as young people and pregnant women. While surveys suggest voters still generally favor legalization, the 2020 Rosenthal Cannabis Study reveals a growing number with more nuanced perceptions: A majority of Americans, for example, are increasingly concerned about the risks posed by easier access to marijuana. They favor curbs on commercialization and a moratorium on legalization until more research is done to assess its impact.