O'Rourke unveils plan to combat opioid epidemic

O'Rourke unveils plan to combat opioid epidemic
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Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) unveiled a plan Thursday to address substance use disorders and end the opioid crisis as part of his 2020 presidential campaign. 

The plan would, among other things, look to end the stigma of substance abuse, focus on promoting long-term recovery, target the supply chain of illegally imported fentanyl and work to improve economic stability for those recovering from substance abuse.

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“The only way that we will overcome the opioid epidemic and help those Americans living with substance use disorders is if we finally treat them not as a criminal justice problem but as individuals in need of support and recovery,” said O’Rourke.

“We must hold pharmaceutical corporations accountable for the damage they’ve caused, while investing in public awareness efforts and supporting access to long-term recovery.”

O’Rourke pushed back on looking at substance abuse as a criminal justice issue, saying his plan would “treat substance use disorder and opioid use disorder as the public health concerns they are” and give states roughly $250 billion over 25 years for education on prevention, risks, interventions and recovery related to opioid and substance abuse. 

To support recovery efforts, O’Rourke’s plan would ensure enforcement of the Mental Health Parity Act and Addiction Equity Act to bar insurance companies from offering less favorable benefits for mental health or substance use disorders compared to other medical coverage.

It would also offer grants to states and localities to address the crisis if they develop multiyear plans to support recovery efforts. 

To support people recovering from opioid abuse, the Texas Democrat would also triple federal investment in grant funding for re-entry programs and expand post-release job placement and training programs. 

O’Rourke said he would also tighten government regulation and oversight of pharmaceutical companies and expand the Drug Enforcement Administration’s ability to hold drug distributors accountable for suspicious shipments.

His plan would also look to curb the flow of illicit fentanyl into the U.S. by requiring China to increase its monitoring of the substance as a condition for trade negotiations and bilateral discussions. 

O’Rourke will highlight the proposal Thursday at the Iowa Harm Reduction Coalition Clinic in Cedar Rapids. 

Congress passed landmark opioid legislation in October of 2018 that expanded access to addiction treatment and worked to curtail the flow of fentanyl from the southern border, among other things, but lawmakers have expressed a desire for further action.