Two former governors from either side of the political aisle on Wednesday thanked congressional negotiators for coming up with a massive legislative package to fight the opioid epidemic, but they stressed that much more is needed.
“I really applaud the Congress for what they did (Tuesday) night but it’s not enough,” Steve Beshear, who was governor of Kentucky from 2007 to 2015, said during a panel discussion Wednesday at the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington. The Democrat said the 660-page bill takes a “piecemeal approach” to the epidemic, adding, “We can’t solve this every year.”
Jim Douglas, a Republican who governed Vermont from 2003-2011, echoed Beshear’s remarks. “We’re grateful for the steps that have been taken in Washington, although they are not as many as we need,” said Douglas. The legislation, and other measures taken by the Trump administration to address the issue, are “good positive steps.” Still, he said, “we can’t let our guard down because of the severity of the crisis.”
House and Senate negotiators reached agreement on the measure late Tuesday. Among other things, it calls for expanding Medicaid coverage for addiction and prevention programs, beefing up law enforcement efforts to reduce the flow of illegal drugs, and accelerating research to find non-addictive painkillers. The House could vote on the bill this week, before adjourning until after the November mid-term election, allowing members to show their constituents that they are taking steps to stem a crisis that is killing more than 130 Americans every day. It’s not clear when the Senate would vote.
“This is an epidemic of gigantic proportions … and we are yet on a national level to recognize what it is,” said Beshear, who compared the opioid crisis with the HIV-AIDS epidemic in the early 1980s. But he said the amount of money the country is investing in the battle against addictive painkillers is only a tenth of was spent to fight AIDS.
“We have to do the same thing with the opioid crisis or we are going to keep sort of spitting into the wind every year with smaller things,” said Beshear, who, along with Douglas, is on the BPC’s Governor’s Council.
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Both speakers agreed that the crisis initially manifested itself most strongly in the more rural areas of their states, but now, they say, it is affecting families from the wealthiest to the poorest, and people of all races and colors.
Douglas said he first became aware of the “classlessness” of the epidemic while campaigning back in 2002 when he began to encounter voters who all seemed to have similar stories. One woman’s tale was particularly resonant, he said.
“I’m a teacher, my husband’s an engineer, and my daughter – she’s dead,” the woman said.
The speakers also agreed that there is little evidence that the crisis is peaking.
“Unfortunately, we’re in for more of the same unless we really get serious about this,” Beshear said. “But we’ve got to put our money where our mouth is. We’ve got to make a commitment at the national level to tackle this thing.”
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