The opioid crisis is hitting families across the nation regardless of income, race or gender. Lawmakers are no exception. In the past few months, The Hill has talked to a number of House and Senate members who have a personal connection to addiction and the opioid epidemic. This is the last in a five-part series presented by Partnership for Safe Medicines.

Rep. Donald NorcrossDonald W. NorcrossNY, NJ lawmakers call for more aid to help fight coronavirus Lawmakers, labor leaders ramp up calls to use Defense Production Act Biden rolls out over a dozen congressional endorsements after latest primary wins MORE's (D-N.J.) grandmother was loving and caring, doting on all four of her grandsons whenever they visited. But the Norcross brothers didn't get to visit when she was in “one of those moods.”


“We didn't understand it,” said Norcross, a New Jersey Democrat. “Certainly I didn't, until I grew older.”

He eventually learned his grandmother had been addicted to alcohol.

The country is grappling with how to solve the opioid epidemic, a task that isn’t easy. Yet, thousands of people are also dying per year from misusing alcohol and other drugs.

Norcross’s grandmother wasn't his only family member who struggled with an alcohol addiction. Personal experiences helped shaped Norcross’s views as he works on issues touching on addiction in Congress, where he serves as a vice chairman of the House Bipartisan Heroin Task Force.

Norcross lives in Camden, N.J., which he says “used to be a thriving city,” and that, “quite frankly, it’s turning back into that.”


“Every day that I leave my home, and I drive out into the district, I'll go underneath these series of bridges a few blocks from my home where people are living up under there, and they don’t come from Camden,” he said.

“They come from every suburb around because this is where the life of addiction has taken them,” he said. “It is brutal. My rural communities are the ones with the highest percentage of overdose deaths in our district.”

In the past, drug usage had been viewed more as an urban problem. But in recent years, the country has begun recognizing — and lawmakers have shared anecdote after anecdote — that addiction impacts all kinds of families and communities.

Norcross said his view of addiction has evolved.

“I’ve gone to way too many funerals in my lifetime,” Norcross said, one of which was a recent overdose of a long time friend. “And I’ve evolved in my knowledge in what I thought I knew and what I know now. … I see my fellow members doing the same thing.”

As an adult, he watched as his brother-in-law, whom he attended high school with, struggled with an alcohol addiction until having, what Norcross called, “a moment of clarity.”

That moment came when Norcross’s brother-in-law was in the hospital, a result of nearly 20 years of excessive drinking. His skin tone had yellowed, and his stomach was distended, Norcross recalled.

“My wife and I went to see him in the hospital, we both walked away thinking that was the last time we'd see him alive — never seen a human that color outside of Halloween,” Norcross said.

His brother-in-law went through detox and then to an inpatient rehabilitation center. Afterward, he attended 12-step meetings, which he continues to do today — more than 20 years after the hospital stay.

“I’ve always been proud to call him my brother-in-law, but I am so proud now that he’s been able to turn that around,” Norcross said of his brother-in-law, who has been in recovery for more than two decades. “But he understands it's a chronic disease. Every day, he wakes up understanding that, ‘I'm not going to drink.’ ”

Norcross’s family experience isn’t unlike that of the people in his home district, where he says addiction has taken a toll. And the experience isn’t unlike communities across the country, as both urban and rural areas grapple with the opioid crisis.

He said the task force he helps lead understands that “we also need to raise the awareness to the American public that this isn’t something to be ashamed of, no different than any other disease, that people need help, and they need treatment.”