For suburban women, addiction is a key election issue

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Suburban women will decide the upcoming presidential election. When President Obama ran for reelection in 2012, a key to his victory was the advantage he held among women in suburban counties. Even though Obama gained only 42 percent of the vote from white women as a whole, his support from mostly white suburban women helped him win critical states like Colorado, Ohio and Virginia.

{mosads}How will suburban women vote in 2016? I’ve talked to thousands of women across the country over the past year, most of them from the suburban demographic that Obama carried. I believe that their votes are genuinely up for grabs. They’re not overwhelmingly committed to any candidate or party. But they’re committed to specific issues, and they’re waiting to see what candidate speaks to the issues that they care about most.

What I heard from talking to those suburban women reinforced my belief that all issues are women’s issues. But women are particularly concerned about issues that have a disproportionate impact on women and families — and they want Congress to address them.

One of the most basic issues for these women is that they want their families and loved ones to be safe. They favor a strong military and demand that their leaders come up with a convincing plan to fight terrorism. They also want a growing, innovative economy that produces well-paying jobs with benefits.

But increasingly, I’ve found that suburban women are worried about the epidemic of substance abuse. They’re well aware that we’re facing a crisis in this country. Each year, 41,000 Americans die from suicide and 44,000 from drug overdoses. That’s equal to all U.S. combat deaths in Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq combined. Recent studies have found that increasing numbers of white women between the ages of 25 and 55 have been prematurely dying over the past decade — a shocking contradiction to the continuing increase in life expectancy for virtually every other group. Drug and alcohol overdoses for working-class white women have quadrupled, while suicides have increased by as much as 50 percent.

There was a time when suburban women may have thought that they were insulated from the ravages of drug abuse. But now they know that it’s everywhere and that it doesn’t spare any racial, ethnic or socioeconomic group. It affects Republicans as well as Democrats. The things I’ve heard from even the most affluent and seemingly secure audiences of suburban women would break your heart.

That’s why I’m glad to see that Congress has been working hard on bipartisan legislation to combat this epidemic. Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said last month that addiction is a problem that has touched so many families in this country, including his own, and that the House will make addressing this epidemic a priority.

Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) recently confirmed that “The House’s goal is simple. We want to build on efforts to prevent addiction and treat those suffering, crafting legislation that will gather bipartisan support and get signed into law. The [p]resident’s own proposals to combat opioid addiction demonstrate that there is ample opportunity to reach a bipartisan consensus.” McCarthy then described the legislative initiatives currently under consideration by the House that would help stem the addiction crisis.

Among these are the bills that Reps. Larry Bucshon (R-Ind.) and Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) have introduced to improve treatment for opioid addicts, as well as prevention and education efforts to decrease the rates of addiction. Since the road to addiction for many began with legally prescribed painkillers, Rep. Susan Brooks (R-Ind.) has put forward a bill that would provide better guidance to the medical community about best practices for pain management prescription that would minimize the risk of substance abuse. Brooks has also proposed legislation to support law enforcement efforts to get heroin off the streets, allow more first responders access to lifesaving naloxone and raise public awareness regarding prescription opioid abuse and heroin addiction.

Most of the suburban women I’ve spoken with have heard gut-wrenching stories about the agonies of withdrawal for babies born to drug-addicted mothers. Rep. Evan Jenkins (R-W.Va.) has introduced a bill that would increase the number of residential pediatric recovery centers, which provide care for these newborns as well as counseling and assistance for their mothers. And Reps. John Katko (R-N.Y.) and Charlie Dent (R-Pa.) are advancing legislation to throttle the illicit drug trade that enables substance abuse.

The Senate also recently passed, by a resounding 94 to 1 vote, the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA) sponsored by Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio). CARA covers much of the same ground as the House bills. I’m hopeful that the two legislative bodies can work out their differences in order to address the drug epidemic.

Suburban women will be watching in this election season to see whether the political system is still capable of responding to critical national needs. Politicians who want the votes of this group would be well-advised to pay attention to their concerns — and to put all their efforts into passing bills that can relieve the scourge of addiction.

Chamberlain is president of the Republican Main Street Partnership.

Tags 2016 campaign Addiction CARA Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act drug addiction Drugs Jim Sensenbrenner Larry Bucshon painkiller Paul Ryan prescription drugs Rob Portman suburban women suburbs Susan Brooks
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