New group advocates for $45B to fight opioid epidemic

New group advocates for $45B to fight opioid epidemic
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Advocates from around the country are working to pressure lawmakers to provide billions of dollars in funding to address the opioid epidemic.

The funding aspect of the opioid epidemic has particularly frustrated Democratic lawmakers and some advocates. Last month, President Trump declared the opioid epidemic a national public health emergency, but the move didn’t unlock millions of dollars, and Trump did not include a funding request to Congress.

The newly formed Opioid Network has a number of requests aimed at curbing the opioid crisis, such as $45 billion over 10 years, the passage of a bipartisan insurance market stabilization bill and no cuts to Medicaid, the health insurance program for low-income and disabled Americans.

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The Opioid Network consists of more than 45 groups from around the country and is convened and supported by the Center for Popular Democracy, which helped lead some of the efforts to protest Republican bills to repeal and replace ObamaCare.

Many of the groups are state and local groups. Several in attendance Monday included Hoosier Action, Ohio Change Addiction Now (CAN), Vocal New York and more. 

In part, the Opioid Network came out of the actions to protest the ObamaCare repeal bills, as a substantial number of people said they came out to oppose the legislation because they had lost children to an overdose, said Jennifer Flynn, director of mobilization and advocacy for the Center for Popular Democracy.

Senate Democrats have introduced a bill to provide $45 billion over 10 years to the opioid epidemic, a nod to the amount of funding Republicans put in their ObamaCare repeal-and-replace legislation, partly to offset ending Medicaid expansion.

Advocates are hoping to put the heat on lawmakers in an effort to secure that money for an epidemic that has seen the rate of deaths from drugs — such as heroin and prescription painkillers — quadruple since 1999. The new group is modeled after the group ACT UP, which formed in the late 1980s to help fight the AIDS epidemic, according to a news release.

“It’s the public health crisis of our time, and it deserves a response that will actually get political action,” Flynn said.

Donald LoGiudice, of Youngstown, Ohio, said he came to advocate for more resources for the opioid epidemic in memory of his son, who died in 2015 of an overdose of heroin tainted with fentanyl, an extremely potent synthetic opioid.

“If he had had the proper treatment, he might be alive today, and I wouldn’t be here,” he said. “I’m here to fight this and end this opioid overdosing and get rid of this fentanyl.”

On Monday morning, about two dozen advocates huddled in a Senate Russell building hallway, near the office of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSessions: 'We should be like Canada' in how we take in immigrants NSA spying program overcomes key Senate hurdle Overnight Finance: Lawmakers see shutdown odds rising | Trump calls for looser rules for bank loans | Consumer bureau moves to revise payday lending rule | Trump warns China on trade deficit MORE (R-Ky.). They held several signs — one that said “Sen. McConnell is addicted to Big Pharma campaign $$. It’s time to help Mitch break his habit” as they prepared to head into McConnell’s office.

Advocates from around the country — Indiana and Ohio, for example — crammed into the majority leader’s office, chanting.

Several advocates came forward to tell their stories or the stories of loved ones who died of an opioid overdose. The rest of the group echoed their story until a Capitol Hill police officer gave a warning that they had to leave.

Across the Capitol, roughly the same number of advocates were doing the same in Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanGOP leaders pitch children's health funding in plan to avert shutdown Lawmakers see shutdown’s odds rising Fix what we’ve got and make Medicare right this year MORE’s (R-Wis.) office.

McConnell's office didn't comment on the protest or the funding request, but pointed to a recent op-ed the majority leader wrote for WDRB TV, a local Kentucky news channel, that said "this crisis is a problem for all of us, and I will continue working with partners in Washington, Frankfort, and across the Commonwealth to fight back with comprehensive solutions that include prevention, enforcement, and treatment."

Ryan's office didn't immediately respond to a request for comment. 

This report was updated at 8:40 a.m. Tuesday