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Heroin cri­sis on back burner

Pres­i­den­tial cam­paigns mostly silent on is­sue

- Paul Singer @singernews USA TO­DAY Health · Alcohol Addiction · U.S. News · US Politics · Opioid Crisis · Politics · Addictions · Social Issues · Society · Google · Philip Seymour Hoffman · U.S. Centers for Disease Control · United States Senate · Washington · Donald Trump · Hillary Clinton · Republican Party (United States) · United States of America · Mexico · Congress of the United States · Barack Obama · Wisconsin · Department of Homeland Security · Homeland · Ohio · Rob Portman · New Hampshire · Seymour · American Society of Addiction Medicine · National Council for Behavioral Health · Council · Russell Feingold · Ted Strickland · Strickland, WI · Kelly Ayotte · Kelly · Maggie Hassan

Across the na­tion, while public con­cern about heroin ad­dic­tion is the high­est it has been in years, the same can’t be said about at­ten­tion on the na­tional po­lit­i­cal stage.

Searches about “heroin” peaked last week for the third time this year at the high­est level in the past five years, ac­cord­ing to data from Google Trends, with the ex­cep­tion of a spike in in­ter­est in Fe­bru­ary 2014 when ac­tor Philip Sey­mour Hoff­man died of a heroin over­dose. Drug over­doses from heroin tripled be­tween 2010 and 2014, and more peo­ple died from drug over­doses than car crashes in 2014, ac­cord­ing to the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion.

The surge in opi­oid ad­dic­tion and over­doses has been dom­i­nat­ing sev­eral key Se­nate races, but on the pres­i­den­tial cam­paign trail and in Washington, the is­sue has been much less prom­i­nent. News cov­er­age on the pres­i­den­tial race has tended to em­pha­size eth­i­cal charges against Don­ald Trump and Hil­lary Clin­ton and fo­cus less around their po­si­tions on var­i­ous is­sues. Both the Repub­li­can and Demo­cratic con­ven­tions in­cluded events in­tended to high­light the ad­dic­tion prob­lem, but Clin­ton has pro­vided a much more de­tailed plan for ad­dress­ing it.

Ear­lier this month, Clin­ton pro­posed a $10 bil­lion plan to fight ad­dic­tion with in­creased re­sources for treat­ment and pre­ven­tion, as well as in­creased train­ing for peo­ple who pre­scribe pain med­i­ca­tion and an in­creased fo­cus on drug treat­ment in the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem. Trump has said lit­tle about the is­sue, other than that build­ing a wall on the U.S.-Mex­ico bor­der will keep nar­cotics out of the U.S.

At the na­tional cam­paign level, ad­dic­tion is still “get­ting short shrift and the vast ma­jor­ity of the rea­son is still stigma,” said R. Corey Waller, chair of the leg­isla­tive ad­vo­cacy com­mit­tee of the Amer­i­can So­ci­ety of Ad­dic­tion Medicine.

Ad­dic­tion is a dis­ease just like di­a­betes, Waller said, and ap­prox­i­mately the same num­ber of Amer­i­cans suf­fer from both. Yet there are 10 times as many board­cer­ti­fied di­a­betes spe­cial­ists as there are ad­dic­tion spe­cial­ists, be­cause ad­dic­tion has not been ad­dressed as a med­i­cal con­di­tion.

LAND­MARK BILL, NO MONEY

Af­ter Con­gress ap­proved land­mark leg­is­la­tion — but not fund­ing — for ex­panded drug ad­dic­tion treat­ment and pre­ven­tion in July, at­ten­tion has turned away from the is­sue. The bill ap­proved spend­ing $181 mil­lion each year to fight the opi­oid epi­demic, but that money still has to be pro­vided by Con­gress, and it is not yet part of the bud­get.

“They just built a Fer­rari that they put no gas in,” Waller said.

Pres­i­dent Obama met with con­gres­sional lead­ers Mon­day to dis­cuss fund­ing pri­or­i­ties for a spend­ing bill that must pass by Sept. 30 to keep the gov­ern­ment open. Both sides men­tioned fund­ing to fight the spread of the Zika virus as a top con­cern.

Nei­ther side men­tioned opi­oids, though Obama has pre­vi­ously re­quested $1.1 bil­lion for grants to the states to fight the epi­demic.

Zika fund­ing could be in­cluded in the stop-gap pack­age, but opi­oid fund­ing will likely have to wait un­til Con­gress gets around to pass­ing a year-long spend­ing bill to fund the gov­ern­ment through 2017. That may not hap­pen un­til De­cem­ber or later.

“It’s look­ing like we are once again go­ing to get a ‘con­tin­u­ing res­o­lu­tion’ which doesn’t give us any op­por­tu­nity to put in new money,” said Becky Vaughn, VP for ad­dic­tions at the Na­tional Coun­cil for Be­hav­ioral Health.

“This is not like Zika in that it has a po­ten­tial to cause a prob­lem.” Waller said. “This is cur­rently caus­ing a prob­lem ... this year we are go­ing to see more over­doses than last year be­cause there is no path­way for the (treat­ment and pre­ven­tion) work­force to be in­creased with­out fund­ing.”

TOP IS­SUE IN KEY RACES

By con­trast, opi­oid abuse has been a huge topic in con­gres­sional races across the coun­try, par­tic­u­larly in states hard­est hit by the epi­demic:

In Wis­con­sin, Repub­li­can Sen. Ron Johnson — whose re- elec­tion bid is con­sid­ered a tossup by the non-par­ti­san Rothen­berg & Gon­za­les Po­lit­i­cal Re­port — re­vealed that his nephew re­cently died of a heroin over­dose. As chair­man of the Se­nate Home­land Se­cu­rity Com­mit­tee, Johnson is­sued a re­port Sept. 1 de­tail­ing his work on the is­sue and high­light­ing his con­clu­sion “that our bor­ders re­main un­se­cure and that a key driver of that in­se­cu­rity is Amer­ica’s in­sa­tiable de­mand for drugs.” His op­po­nent, for­mer se­na­tor Russ Fein­gold, re­leased a ra­dio ad a few days later say­ing Johnson “has es­sen­tially done noth­ing ” about the epi­demic dur­ing his time in the Se­nate.

In Ohio, Repub­li­can Sen. Rob Port­man made his work on opi­oid ad­dic­tion the fea­ture of the first tele­vi­sion ads in his re­elec­tion cam­paign. Port­man was a lead spon­sor of the opi­oid bill that Con­gress ap­proved in July and is now push­ing a sec­ond bill that would block syn­thetic opi­oids be­ing sent through the U.S. mail. For­mer Ohio gov­er­nor Ted Strick­land, who is chal­leng­ing Port­man, says the se­na­tor has not done enough to se­cure fund­ing for treat­ment and pre­ven­tion.

In New Hamp­shire, the Se­nate race pit­ting sit­ting GOP Sen. Kelly Ay­otte against de­part­ing Gov. Mag­gie Has­san has been marked by charges and coun­ter­charges about who has done a bet­ter job of ad­dress­ing the state’s ad­dic­tion cri­sis. Has­san has pro­posed a pre­scrip­tion track­ing sys­tem that would pre­vent pa­tients from “doc­tor shop­ping ” to get more pain pills. Ay­otte has said she has used her po­si­tion in the Se­nate to se­cure fund­ing for New Hamp­shire’s ad­dic­tion cri­sis.

Ad­dic­tion is “get­ting short shrift and the vast ma­jor­ity of the rea­son is still stigma.”

R. Corey Waller, chair of the leg­isla­tive ad­vo­cacy com­mit­tee of the Amer­i­can So­ci­ety of Ad­dic­tion Medicine

 ?? JOHN MINCHILLO, AP ?? Carol DeMoss joins heroin aware­ness and ad­vo­cacy groups that protested on the steps of the Hamil­ton County Jus­tice Cen­ter af­ter a wave of over­doses hit Cincin­nati in 2016.
JOHN MINCHILLO, AP Carol DeMoss joins heroin aware­ness and ad­vo­cacy groups that protested on the steps of the Hamil­ton County Jus­tice Cen­ter af­ter a wave of over­doses hit Cincin­nati in 2016.

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