2020 Elections

2020 Presidential Candidates Detail How They'd "Turn The Tide" On Addiction Crisis

All of the candidates approached the drug crisis as a public health issue, emphasizing the need for comprehensive treatment options.

All of the candidates approached the drug crisis as a public health issue, emphasizing the need for comprehensive treatment options.

The 2020 presidential election is just over a year away.

Ahead of the much-anticipated event, the Mental Health for U.S. coalition posed 11 questions about mental health and substance use disorder to the presidential hopefuls.

Not every candidate answered, including former Vice President Joe Biden, former Massachusetts governor Bill Weld (a Republican) and President Donald Trump.

But among the six who did, we focused on question number 2: “Every hour, eight people in America die of drug overdose, from opioids and increasingly from other drugs as well. What would your administration do to turn the tide on the addiction crisis?”

Holding Big Pharma Accountable

U.S. Senators Cory Booker, Kamala Harris and Bernie Sanders said they would hold drug manufacturers and distributors accountable for their role in exacerbating the drug crisis.

“This epidemic, caused by the greed of pharmaceutical companies, is ravaging communities across America,” said Sanders.

“Our response to the addiction crisis must start by tackling the very thing that fueled it in the first place: reckless pharmaceutical companies that marketed dangerous drugs they knew could be highly addictive in order to profit,” said Harris.

“In the Senate, I called for bringing pharmaceutical CEOs to Capitol Hill to testify about their role in the opioid crisis,” said Booker.

Investing In A Solution

Booker and Harris referred to their co-sponsorship of the Comprehensive Addiction Resources Emergency (CARE) Act. The legislation would “authorize $100 billion over 10 years to combat drug addiction and funnel money to cities, counties and states… to boost spending on addiction treatment, harm reduction services and prevention programs,” as Booker outlined.

Treat It as a Public Health Crisis

All of the candidates approached the drug crisis as a public health issue, emphasizing the need for comprehensive treatment options.

Mayor Pete Buttigieg emphasized expanding access to medication-assisted treatment (MAT), the “gold standard” of treatment for opioid use disorder.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, using funding from her opioid tax, would expand prevention and treatment initiatives, including mental health support, “giving Americans a path to sustainable recovery.”

Sanders would guarantee substance use disorder and mental health services through Medicare-for-all, which emphasizes health care “as a right, not a privilege.”

Other elements of the candidates’ plans included investing in the research of opioid alternatives for pain management, harm reduction programs like syringe exchange, and ensuring the availability of mental health and substance use disorder services for incarcerated individuals, a demographic of people mired by these issues.

Addressing Trauma 

Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s response stood out from the rest. She focused her strategy on addressing the root causes of substance use disorder and mental illness: trauma.

“To start, we need to support our very youngest,” she said. “We know that adverse childhood experiences, like poverty, homelessness, violence in the community or in the home, family separation, or a caretaker with a substance use disorder, can affect brain development and have an impact on mental health in the teen years and beyond. My plans on gun safety, housing, immigration and the opioid crisis confront many of the conditions that can cause childhood trauma.”

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