Hillary Clinton Wants to Spend $10 Billion to End Addiction. Will Other Presidential Candidates Follow?

Addiction treatment got a much higher profile this week when Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton announced that, if elected president, she would launch a $10 billion initiative aimed at addressing drug and alcohol addiction. Clinton announced her plan in an op-ed in the New Hampshire Union Leader newspaper.

Clinton’s choice of papers was intentional: New Hampshire will hold the first 2016 primary election and it has one of the most severe addiction problems in the country. According to The Daily Beast, the number of people admitted to treatment programs funded by the state grew 90% for heroin addiction and 500% for abuse of prescription painkillers over the past decade. Manchester’s mayor recently told reporters that a dose of heroin could be bought more cheaply in the city than a six-pack of beer.

In her September 1 op-ed on addiction, Clinton wrote that on her first trip to New Hampshire a retired doctor replied to Clinton’s invitation to list his concerns by saying his biggest worry was the recent rise in heroin addiction that had followed a wave of prescription drug abuse. “To be candid,” wrote Clinton, “I didn’t expect what came next. In state after state, this issue came up again and again — from so many people, from all walks of life, in small towns and big cities.” “Plain and simple,” she continued, “drug and alcohol addiction is a disease, not a moral failing — and we must treat it as such.”

Mrs. Clinton’s Five-Point Plan

Clinton’s proposal outlines these goals:

  • Empower communities to prevent drug use among teenagers;
  • Ensure every person suffering from addiction can obtain comprehensive treatment;
  • Ensure that all first responders carry naloxone (brand name: Narcan), which can stop an overdose from turning fatal;
  • Require health care providers to receive training in recognizing substance use disorders and to consult a prescription drug monitoring program before prescribing controlled substances; and
  • Prioritize treatment over prison for low-level and nonviolent drug offenders

Clinton writes that, under her plan, cities and states would be able to use programs that best suit their needs and the federal government would draw on a new $7.5 billion fund, called the Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Block Grant, to help states with addiction-related prevention, treatment, medical response, prescription and criminal justice initiatives. Clinton proposes adding 25% to that amount, $2.5 billion, to reach a total of $10 billion in funding for the Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Block Grant.

The plan would also ensure that existing federal insurance parity laws are enforced, that there’s no discrimination between payment for mental health and physical health issues and that Medicare and Medicaid payment practices would be re-evaluated to remove obstacles to reimbursement and help integrate care for addiction into standard medical practice.

What Do the Other Candidates Say About Addiction & Treatment?

So far, no other presidential candidates have issued a formal plan, though several have spoken publicly about the issue of addiction and treatment and others are expected to address it due to the dire problem of addiction in New Hampshire and much of the rest of the U.S. Here, a brief overview of other candidates’ comments to date:

  • Former Florida Republican Governor Jeb Bush, whose daughter has battled drug addiction, has said publicly that the country needs a “recovery kind of philosophy” and has expressed concerns that a porous U.S. border is bringing low-cost drugs into the country, fueling addiction.
  • Republican candidate Donald Trump has shared thoughts about illegal drugs on the campaign trail and has suggested legalizing illicit drugs.
  • New Jersey Republican Governor Chris Christie cites a program in his state as a model for a national program to get first-time, nonviolent drug offenders into mandatory treatment. Other candidates, including Republicans Rand Paul, Ohio Governor John Kasich, Carly Fiorina and Jeb Bush, have also mentioned much the same idea. (In a similar vein last month, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy pledged $2.5 million to 15 states in the Northeast to educate police about treatment options for addicts.)
  • Republican candidate and Ohio Governor John Kasich has said that helping more people get addiction treatment factored into his decision to expand Medicaid in Ohio.
  • Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders has called for lower prices for naloxone to help expand availability of the drug and save more lives.

Addiction: Hard to Ignore on the 2016 Presidential Campaign Trail

Experts expect most of the candidates to address addiction simply because of the size of the problem in the U.S.: In 2013, the last year for which there is data, 25 million people used illegal drugs at some point, according to figures from the National Institute of Drug Abuse. And the issue is increasingly one of concern for Americans. A recent poll by the Boston Globe and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that nearly four in 10 people in the U.S. reported knowing someone during the past five years who had abused prescription painkillers. Of those, a majority said the abuse had a major, harmful effect on the user’s family life (67%), work life (58%) and health (55%). Worst of all, 21% surveyed said the person’s abuse of prescription painkillers led to their death. “For much of the public, the issue of prescription painkiller abuse is not just a remote concern; it’s a problem they see in their personal lives,” said Robert J. Blendon, the Richard L. Menschel Professor of Health Policy and Political Analysis at the school of public health, speaking in a press release about the study.

Responding to Hillary’s Clinton’s announcement, Nick Motu, vice president of the Hazelden Betty Ford Institute for Recovery Advocacy, in Center City, Minnesota, said in a press release, “With a third of U.S. households affected by addiction and thousands dying every year from overdose, the presidential candidates’ increasing focus on this issue may be just the catalyst needed to bring solutions to a public health crisis that has long been overlooked.” Motu added that while Clinton’s proposal is “arguably the first formal proposal among the current field of 20 Republican and Democratic candidates, it is not likely to be the last … there’s a grassroots movement in this country that is bringing this issue out of the shadows and into the light, and I assume the candidates’ polls are starting to show it.”

“We are pleased this important conversation is getting bigger,” Motu added. “We think America would benefit from an entire televised debate devoted to this issue.”

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