Opioid Crisis | Dave Cavell for Congress

Opioid National Emergency (ONE) Plan

Finally Ending the Opioid Crisis

America’s opioid crisis is truly of epidemic proportions.  According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, more than 42,000 people died of opioid overdoses in just one recent year, and 40% of those deaths were from prescription drugs. In Massachusetts alone, five people will die today from an opioid overdose. And tomorrow. And the day after that. 

 This is a crisis that impacts just about every community and family across the 4th District, the state, and the country, devastating people from all walks of life. Just about all of us know someone who has been lost: a friend, a family member, a classmate.

 In my career, I have talked with people in parking lots waiting for treatment.  I’ve looked in the eyes of parents who don’t know what more they can do to help addicted children and listened to the struggles of grandparents trying to raise grandchildren.  And I’ve attended recovery meetings and seen the anguish of those who have lost a loved one, who will have an empty seat at their table and an empty space forever in their heart so senselessly.

 Tackling the opioid crisis is not a new mission for me. I was an Assistant Attorney General in Attorney General Maura Healey’s office when we investigated and launched the nation-leading case against Purdue Pharma and the Sackler family, who make OxyContin, for their heinous behavior that encouraged so much addiction and led to so much death. I helped direct state resources to families who need treatment. I was there when we launched prevention programming for middle school students, worked with fire and police departments to make naloxone (the opioid overdose reversal drug) affordable, and went after cartels and fentanyl trafficking networks. But five more people still die every day in Massachusetts from opioids; that’s five too many. So many continue to do heroic work at the state and local levels, but the scale of this crisis requires clear leadership at the national level to steer federal support and resources of sufficient scale in support of those in the front lines of this battle

As a member of Congress, I will make the opioid epidemic my day one priority.
On day one of my term, I’ll introduce Opioid National Emergency (ONE) legislation that will direct billions of dollars into:

First and foremost, we need more money to ensure a comprehensive approach to prevention, treatment, and recovery.

We need to expand beyond the traditional focus on treatment facilities.  These are absolutely essential, but sustained recovery requires ongoing support for months and years after initial detox and treatment.  We also need to provide these ongoing interventions and supports (“wrap-around services”) in ways that are convenient and accessible to everyone, including those in rural areas and those with limited transportation or means of access.  Mobile clinics are a very effective way to accomplish some of these goals, reaching people where they are for comprehensive addiction treatment.

 

State and local governments are essential in this fight, but they are simply too small, under- resourced, and disconnected from each other to provide the comprehensive and sustained organizational scale needed to push back the surge of this epidemic.  I vow to make the opioid crisis my TOP PRIORITY as a member of Congress, bringing to Washington the experience, leadership, vision, and unflagging commitment needed to make progress across the board against this national scourge devastating so many of our children, families, and communities.

The opioid epidemic is about individuals who are suffering from addiction, of course, but it also has a catastrophic impact on families, loved ones, and entire communities that have been affected.  In addition to interventions and treatment for individuals (including a massive increase in the number of beds and treatment facilities available), we need to see more extensive treatment services in prisons, support programs for family members and loved ones, and programs to help entire communities heal and reconstitute themselves.  We also need to have more education in the larger community about how to support those struggling with or recovering from addiction rather than stigmatizing addiction. I will introduce legislation that will encourage and incentivize greater vertical integration of service organizations; rather than leaving it to individuals or families to independently navigate a bewildering welter of service providers, each with their own extensive intake process, vertical integration could offer them a “one-stop shop” of support to receive all of their wrap-around services in one place. 

 

Distressed individuals and families should not be burdened with having to figure out how to get help from a dozen different organizations; they should be able to go to one integrated consortium that will provide all the various supports, services, and resources they need when they walk through the door.

The bill I introduce will also create a national prevention program, using effective, evidence-based education programs that will ensure every student from elementary to high school has the resources and support they need to stay safe.

The best strategy to stop addiction, of course, is to stop it before it starts.  Prevention is immeasurably better for our families and communities, saving so much suffering and heartache from ever occurring, and, of course, it is far less expensive than treatment and other responses after people have become addicted to opioids.  The sad truth is 90% of those currently struggling with substance use began using opioids before the age of 18, and half start using before the age of 16.  Clearly, we need comprehensive evidence-based prevention education programming across all school ages. Tragically, we do not have statewide programming right now. When I was in the Attorney General’s Office, we launched Project Here, an evidence-based prevention program that is now in 300 middle schools across Massachusetts. I saw first-hand the difference that program made for young people, and it’s well past time we got those same resources to every student in every classroom.

Massachusetts needs more resources to allow local, state, and federal agencies to coordinate more effectively in prosecuting fentanyl traffickers and the cartels that flood our communities with these deadly drugs.  We must also build a national prescription drug monitoring program, to make sure that “doctor shopping” and obtaining more prescription drugs is no longer as easy as simply crossing state lines.  We also need to ensure that every law enforcement official and every first responder has the training, supplies, and resources to meet the enormous need in responding to opioid emergencies. 

 

This includes building a national Narcan fund to help defray the cost of this life-saving  overdose-reversal drug.

I have forthrightly taken a stand in support of safe consumption sites.

This is, admittedly, a controversial issue marked by much emotion from all sides of the spectrum.  There are important and legitimate concerns raised by those who oppose such a program, but, for me, the bottom line is this: Whether we like it or not, people continue to use dangerous, addictive opioids, and many of them are unsafe in the illicit places they now frequent in order to use them.

 

This is especially true of women and those most vulnerable to predation, violence, and abuse.  I wish we lived in a world where no one continued to use addictive opioids for other than clearly prescribed medical purposes.

 

Because we live in an imperfect world, though, I support legislation ensuring safe consumption sites so that we can make sure that every user is at least able to be in a safe place in their continuing struggle with the disease of addiction while receiving the proper counseling, protection, and support to pursue a path to recovery.

Taking on Purdue Pharma with the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office has taught me that this crisis can happen again when greed and lack of oversight combine to allow a big corporation to put profits over people’s lives. I will draw on this experience to write legislation that will change federal regulations and dispensing practices, holding drug manufacturers directly accountable for skirting the rules to sell deadly and addictive drugs. It will also enforce lower prescribing rules for medical providers -- most patients do not need to walk out of routine procedures with 20, 30, or more potentially deadly and addictive pills.

 

We don’t need more empty talk and hand-wringing out of Washington.  We need the experience fighting back against big pharma that I will bring to protect our families and our communities from this scourge of addiction.  This will be JOB ONE for me on DAY ONE in Congress, and I won’t stop until we have turned the tide of this epidemic.

Opioid Crisis — Relevant Data
Year 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 Total
Deaths in MA-04 140 138 238 221 195 932
Hardest-Hit Cities

Fall River

  • 252 opioid overdoses between 2014-2018
  • 27% of MA-04’s opioid-related deaths in that time span
  • 55 deaths in 2018 alone
  • 64  deaths in 2016 —  most in one year for any city in MA-04

Taunton

  • 128 overdoses between 2014 and 2018
  • 35 people lost  in 2018

Attleboro

  • 74 overdoses between 2014 and 2018
  • 11 deaths in 2018

**Every town and city in MA-04 has lost community members from opioids in the past three years (2017-present)

Expected Increase in Opioid Abuse due to COVID-19
  • The unemployment and poverty rates are highly correlated with increased opioid abuse (NIH – Spiller, Lorenz)
  • Unemployment rate is currently at 14.7% but is expected to reach higher than 20% (CBSNews)
  • 26.5 million unemployment claims since mid-Match
  • Workers who are furloughed or jobless, especially those who have struggled with opioid abuse in the past, are at an increased risk of opioid addiction.
  • Yet another example of COVID-19 unequally affecting citizens who are already struggling systematically