Former congressman Patrick J. Kennedy, who has struggled with drug addiction and alcoholism, says the country is in “deep, deep denial” about the opioid crisis.
Kennedy told The Washington Post in a live interview on Tuesday.
Kennedy, the author of “A Common Struggle: A Personal Journey Through the Past and Future of Mental Illness and Addiction,” and a member on the White House Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis, said he does not support the use of block grants, which are part of the Republican spending package, to help states fund addiction treatment and mental health programs for low-income individuals.
Kennedy also drew a connection between overdoses and suicides, saying that “we have no clue what the true suicide rate” is in the United States.
Kennedy offered his perspective during a Washington Post Live program on America’s opioid crisis featuring doctors, health care experts and elected officials.
DeGette, Markey, Walden share perspectives from the states
Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), said opioid-related deaths in Massachusetts are “three times worse than the national rate,” noting that about 2,000 people in his state died as a result of addiction in 2016.
Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, represents a rural district in Eastern Oregon, where he said he has seen many families and communities affected by the crisis. He attributes a lot of Oregon’s addiction problems to the over prescribing of opioids to relieve pain.
And Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) said her state is facing similar challenges.
The view from the medical and research community
Dr. Andrew Kolodny, Co-Director of Opioid Policy Research at The Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University, said the opioid addiction epidemic was misrepresented from the start as a problem that only affects “so-called drug abusers.”
Dr. Leana Wen, Health Commissioner of Baltimore City, agreed that this crisis is different from other public health crises, particularly due to “huge stigma around treatment.”
Anne Pritchett, Vice President of Research and Policy at PhRMA, the association that represents large pharmaceutical manufacturers, said many factors contribute to the nationwide crisis, notably the over prescription of opioids.
“There are enough prescription opioids being prescribed so that every person in America has a 30-day supply,” Pritchett said, according to research from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “So, clearly we have a problem.”
Post health and medicine reporter, Lenny Bernstein, asked Pritchett about the case of West Virginia — a state that was flooded with 780 million opioids over a five-year period.