Opioid addiction is one of the most devastating, challenging issues affecting communities across the United States. According to the most recent data, nearly 400,000 people in the U.S. have died of opioid overdoses since the introduction of oxycontin into the pharmaceutical market in 1996.
Our district has not been spared. According to the Center for Disease Control and New York State Department of Health, from 1999 to 2014, drug-related deaths increased threefold in the 11 counties comprising New York’s 23rd congressional district. Among 47,055 deaths, 61 percent involved an opioid. From 2015 to 2018, opioid-related deaths increased by more than 105 percent. It is clear that this issue needs to be prioritized so we can put an end to America’s opioids problem.
As a Democratic candidate for Congress, I have a comprehensive plan to combat the scourge of opioids. I fully support expanding access to affordable, quality healthcare. The lack thereof has contributed directly to opioid-related deaths. In addition, we need to track prescriptions, treat addiction, new tech at the border, and justice in the courts.
1. Track Prescriptions: We need a task force to investigate how doctors who run the so-called “pill mills” are getting around the Prescription Monitoring Programs already in place. If we can’t stop the over-prescribing of pain killers, we’ll never get a handle on this crisis.
2. Treat Addiction: We need to train more doctors to use medications such as Suboxone as part of an evidence-based approach called medication-assisted treatment (MAT). Under the watchful supervision of a trained healthcare provider, MAT has been shown to reduce overdose deaths by as much as 60 percent. These medications are a necessary component in addiction treatment because they reduce drug cravings without making the user “high.” Yet many treatment centers do not use them, many doctors do not understand them, and insurance companies create obstacles for doctors to prescribe them to patients.
3. New Tech at the Borders: It is vital to provide Customs Border Patrol (CBP) with new and effective high-tech inspection devices to detect and prevent the trafficking of illegal drugs at our borders. All the attention focused on building a wall to stop illegal immigration ignores the greater threat posed by cheap heroin. CBP needs to shift focus and immediately adapt scientific and technological breakthroughs, such as pollen analysis, to intercept drugs before they reach their destinations in the U.S.
4. Justice in the Courts: We cannot continue to allow pharmaceutical companies to profit off of an American epidemic. They have misled doctors about the addictiveness of their products and influenced them in predatory ways that we are only learning about now. I’m proud of NY Attorney General Letitia James and others who have vowed to prosecute these companies, such as Purdue Pharma, to the fullest extent of the law. Any money won in court from them would cover the expenses that our local and state governments are incurring, as law enforcement and hospitals struggle to cope with the crisis.
To enact a multi-faceted drug policy like the one I’m proposing, we need strong, effective leadership in Washington. Instead, we have Tom Reed, who accepts campaign contributions from pharmaceutical companies. Reed makes tough-sounding threats to apply the death penalty to drug pushers but doesn’t back them up with legislation. He uses each election cycle to repeat myths about drug use and lies about his opponents.
One of those lies is about me. Let me set the record straight: I am not an advocate of federal funding for supervised injection sites. I never have been and I never will be. In one often-misquoted interview I mentioned that local governments with strong, majority public support should be able to try an out-of-the-box approach that saves lives. I don’t believe the federal government should get in their way. Neither should the federal government force it on a community.
Reed spent innumerable dollars on mailers, television commercials and digital advertising in 2018 to mislead his constituents about my position. That’s because he knows that he can’t win on his lackluster record. None of that money helped make our communities safer, healthier or free of drugs.
I challenge Mr. Reed to stop misrepresenting my positions and tell us exactly what he has done in the past nine years to get harmful drugs off of our streets. Let him explain whether the hundreds of thousands of dollars he has received during his years in office influence his failure to fund research for, and treatment of opioid addiction. How has he actively served his constituents, who have suffered so much heartbreak over this issue?
We need politicians who are trying to fix the problems we have, not just the problems of rich donors. We need new leadership in Washington.
Dr. Tracy Mitrano is an educator, lawyer and an expert on Internet and cyber security policy. Born and raised in Rochester, she has spent her whole life in Western New York and the state’s Southern Tier. Dr. Mitrano is running for Congress in New York’s 23rd district.