By Andres Del Aguila
WASHINGTON — Former President Bill Clinton said Monday that the country is “growing up” with its public-health approach to the opioid epidemic.
“This is the first drug epidemic where we act like a grown-up country,” Clinton said during an opioid summit at Johns Hpkins University in Baltimore. “We are treating it like a public-health problem instead of primarily a criminal-justice problem.”
The summit comes four days after President Donald Trump declared the opioid epidemic a “public health emergency.”
“No part of our society — not young or old, rich or poor, urban or rural — has been spared this plague of drug addiction and this horrible, horrible situation that’s taken place with opioids,” Trump said during Thursday’s White House ceremony. “This epidemic is a national health emergency.”
Clinton attributed the new approach to it being the first drug epidemic that is “killing this many people that had a nonviolent delivery chain.”
The previous epidemic Clinton was referring to was the proliferation of crack-cocaine in the 1980s, which is when the country took a tough-on-crime approach by implementing mandatory minimums to lock up drug users. The epicenters of the crack-cocaine epidemic were impoverished and minority communities in major cities across the U.S.
Clinton said the public-health approach will save lives by reducing stigma and providing addicts the care they need.
But he argued that the public-health response has been “woefully inadequate,” calling for increased cooperation among legislatures, health care providers, employers, law enforcement and insurers.
Johns Hopkins released a report on the opioid crisis this month that provided recommendations on how to accomplish such cooperation. The report also focused on expanding the accessibility of naloxone, a drug used to rapidly reverse opioid overdoses.
Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) and stakeholders joined Clinton to address the crippling impact of the opioid crisis and discuss solutions during the summit, which the Clinton Foundation co-sponsored.
Cummings urged Congress to push back against health insurers over-prescribing opioids and to provide more funding to increase access to naloxone.
“We must press insurance companies to eliminate their bias in favor opioid base pain killers and we must challenge our friend in Congress to expand public health funding.”