Rosenthal Reports
Special Report: The opioid crisis and the 2020 election

As the 2020 presidential campaign shifts into high gear in the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic and devastating economic losses it has caused, the Rosenthal Center strives to ensure that America’s other public health crisis—the opioid epidemic—remains a priority in this critical election year. So far, however, only the Democratic Party has outlined a comprehensive plan to combat the opioid crisis, as Republicans have failed to put forth a single meaningful program,or offer any funding proposals. (In fact, they have, as yet, no 2020 party platform, at all.)

By contrast, the Biden-Harris campaign’s ambitious $125 billion plan over the next decade—with its strong focus on significantly expanding drug treatment—shows a deep understanding of the drug crisis. At the heart of the initiative is the goal of providing treatment and recovery services to all who need it at quality facilities and providers, as well as universal access by 2025 to medication-assisted treatment (MAT)—a key adjunctive implement in the treatment toolkit.  

Special programs would ensure substance abuse treatment for veterans, and bring enhanced services to urban and rural settings, and trial communities, locales that now often lack them. Equally impressive is the emphasis on peer-support networks, recovery coaches and family-centered and community-based treatment models. In addition, as part of criminal justice reform, the plan makes a bold call for ending incarceration for drug use alone, and instead would divert individuals through drug courts to treatment, backed by a unique collaboration among law enforcement, addiction professionals, and social workers.

Overall, the Biden-Harris proposal represents a balanced and thoughtful approach that checks all the boxes of sound, evidence-based addiction-treatment strategies that are supported by the Rosenthal Center. For their part, with no new proposals in hand, the Republicans can only tout Trump’s record—in particular, the slight decrease in drug overdose deaths in 2018, and the reduction in opioid prescriptions thanks to stricter monitoring—as evidence of his commitment to ending the epidemic.

In reality, Trump has done little to alleviate the crisis. Congress did approve $6 billion in new funding, which amounted to a mere drop in the bucket considering the vast scale and scope of the problem. Although overdose fatalities did decline slightly in 2018, deaths spiked again in 2019 to a record high—and will likely worsen in 2020, largely as a result of the pandemic. It is also worth noting Trump supports efforts to kill the Affordable Care Act, which greatly expanded options for coverage of mental health and substance abuse disorders.  

Over the past two decades, the absence of federal action to address the opioid epidemic has led to dire consequences, with more than 450,000 Americans dying from drug overdose, the majority opioid-related. Millions of individuals who could have been helped weren’t because treatment was either unaffordable or simply unavailable. Amid the daunting challenges facing the nation in 2020, we need a commitment to fight the opioid epidemic with all the resources the country can muster—whether the occupant of the White House is a Republican or a Democrat.

1st September 2020
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