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Elizabeth Warren Raises A Ruckus On Opioids, Wins Over West Virginia
Fighting drugs might involve more than scary ads.
Elizabeth Warren visited Kermit, West Virginia, Friday to talk about her plan to fight opioid addiction in America. Yes, of course she has a policy paper, too. Even though more than 80 percent of voters in Kermit (population 360) voted for Donald Trump, she received a warm welcome and lots of applause -- even from some people wearing Trump stickers to her town hall. Kermit became notorious in 2016 when the Charleston Gazette-Mail won a Pulitzer Prize for reporting on a local pharmacy that received over nine million hydrocodone pills in a two-year period. The Warren town hall took place in a fire station just a few blocks away from the now-closed pharmacy. When Warren asked members of the audience to raise their hands if they knew anyone affected by addiction, nearly every hand went up .
In her policy paper,Warren called on people to support her CARE Act bill in the Senate, which would provide $100 billion in spending over the next decade on treatment and prevention, with most of the money going to city, state, county, and tribal governments for addiction treatment. Not a single mention of those "this is your brain on drugs" ads Donald Trump thinks are the best thing ever, and not a word about death penalties for drug dealers, either. Instead, it's all about treating addiction as a public health crisis above all else, and getting treatment to people who want it, without moralizing. Along the way, Warren pushes back against the notion that opioid addiction is only a white working class problem, too:
The crisis has also severely impacted communities of color, exacerbated by existing health disparities. For example, in 2017 the number of opioid-related deaths was 692 in Baltimore , almost as high as West Virginia, 833 — the state with the highest death rate in the country — with most deaths occurring in the black community.
The House co-sponsor of the CARE Act is Rep. Elijah Cummings of Baltimore, too. Beyond addiction treatment, Warren also calls for "critical wraparound services" to help people dealing with addiction, like help with housing and transportation. She also wants the US to
strengthen our addiction treatment infrastructure — demanding states use Medicaid to its fullest to tackle the crisis, expanding access to medication-assisted treatment, and ensuring treatment programs and recovery residences meet high standards.
To pay for it all, Warren would use her Eat the Rich Wealth Tax, which would slap a two percent tax on all wealth over $50 million -- over 10 years, taxing the assets of the richest 75,000 families will bring in enough revenue for Warren's plans to cancel most student loan debt, provide universal childcare and public college, and yes, fight opioids, and her team's projections say there'd still be a trillion dollars left over for more policies to be announced later. The Harvard prof has a budget worked out, trust her.
In addition to treating addiction, Warren wants to get tough on the corporations that have been getting rich off addiction. Citing the tragedy of Kermit as a microcosm of the opioid epidemic, Warren says,
the fact that any of this happened in the first place speaks to something rotten in our system.
Here's the truth: fueling addiction is big business. The five companies being sued by Kermit earned $17 billion shipping prescription opioids to West Virginia during the period in question, and their CEOs took home millions in bonuses and pay.
Warren would like to see some of those corporate drug pushers see the inside of a prison cell. She also calls for fines that would be more than a slap on the wrist for the companies responsible for pushing addictive painkillers -- and for the fines to be put into paying for treatment. Last week, she encouraged Harvard to remove the name of the Sackler family -- the family that owns Purdue Pharma, and which got rich selling OxyContin -- from buildings on campus. The New York Times duly notes that a spokesperson for the Sacklers objected to a line in Warren's Medium post that said,
The Sacklers made their money pushing OxyContin. Pushing it even as study after study demonstrated its addictive potential. Even as hundreds of thousands of Americans died. And how did the Sackler family react? They tried to increase their profits by opening a network of for-profit recovery centers to treat the very same health crisis they were fueling.
Not so! said the Sackler rep, whining the Sacklers had never once opened or tried to open for-profit treatment centers. True enough! The spox conveniently left out the bit, reported by the Times in the first place, about Purdue Pharma's research into opening a string of addiction treatment centers. Ultimately the plan was rejected, so it's totes unfair to even mention it, you see?
In Kermit, Warren got big applause for saying "I'm tired of freeloading billionaires," after which we'll just assume the Sackler family released a memo stating they pay taxes just like anyone else, albeit a lot less since the Republican tax cuts, huh?
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