OK, Iowa ended in a virtual tie. As much as Hillary and her compatriots want to frame this as a huge victory, and it’s not, Bernie showed that he has the ability to win. It’s going to be a long fight. As such, it’s time to move on. Fighting for Iowa is essentially us getting bogged down for one or two delegates. In all, 108 delegates are up for grabs. It’s time to get busy.
Personally, I want to look at the issues important to each of these states. This will be the first of three blog articles discussing these next three states.
First, let’s look at New Hampshire. The polls and media are saying this state is a Bernie should win easily. Still, this means it’s his to lose.
One of the issues I was actually very surprised to see as a primary issue for voters in New Hampshire was drug abuse. NHMagazine noted that:
In 2016 the New Hampshire primary might be putting another issue on the national agenda: opiate drug abuse.
The first question that perceived Republican frontrunner Jeb Bush was asked at his first town hall event was about the issue. He said he was surprised to hear the issue come up again and again on the campaign trail. He later learned that a campaign staffer’s brother died from an overdose.
Democratic frontrunner Hillary Rodham Clinton notes that a question about opiate addiction was also the first question she was asked when she began campaigning for president in the state. Former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, a Republican candidate, used to never talk about her daughter dying from a drug overdose, but she does so now. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is now holding events solely highlighting the issue and what he has done in his state to address the problem.
This is actually an issue I know a lot about. I have worked for over six years in social work, first at a crisis stabilization unit that dealt a lot with opiate abuse. The treatment at this agency was suboxone along with an intensive outpatient treatment. My personal experience with seeing people go through this is mixed. It could definitely be improved. My next job was in child protective services and I many of the families I dealt with were affected by drug abuse, with the majority being opiates. And my current job has shown me the continued impact of drug abuse on families.
Bernie has a solid drug policy outlined. He has outlined how the war on drugs has been a failure and impacting the productivity of America, noting:
“If you do not believe that there is a correlation between high youth unemployment and the fact that this country has more people in jail than any other country on Earth, you would be wrong. Now, how does it happen that in this great nation, we have more people in jail than the communist authoritarian country of China, which has over three times our population? And in my view — and I feel this very, very strongly — instead of locking up our young people, maybe it’s time we found jobs for them and education for them.”
Not to mention costing the US $51 billion annually. That is crazy for the return on investment we don’t get. Also, the 700% increase in prison population since 1970.
Bernie also agrees with the decriminalization of marijuana, a huge step in the right direction:
“Let me just say this — the state of Vermont voted to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana and I support that. I have supported the use of medical marijuana. And when I was mayor of Burlington, in a city with a large population, I can tell you very few people were arrested for smoking marijuana. Our police had more important things to do… Colorado has led the effort toward legalizing marijuana and I’m going to watch very closely to see the pluses and minuses of what they have done. I will have more to say about this issue within the coming months.”
I very much agree with Bernie on this population needing treatment but having trouble getting this treatment, stating:
“We are unprepared for the epidemic in terms of our mental health capacity to treat people who need treatment. And one of the problems in Vermont is you have waiting lists of people who want to break the habit, want to break their addiction, and we can’t treat them when they want to do it.”
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration notes that, “Only 11% of the 22.7 million Americans who needed drug or alcohol treatment in 2013…” and I can relate to this. Often there are issues with access to insurance, people trained and able to help and then just stigma alone. Very often, those in need of drug abuse treatment are dealing with comorbid mental health issues, including depression, anxiety, mood disorders or psychotic symptoms. At times, they are turning to drugs to self-medicate themselves. Sure, it doesn’t work but it makes the horror of living day to day easier to deal with.
And yes, there are options for treatment but at times those options are unavailable in some areas or are just extremely expensive. Bernie has attempted to deal with this in the Senate, joining Maryland’s Elijah Cummings in writing:
“The opioid abuse epidemic is a public health emergency that must be addressed, and no company should jeopardize the progress many states have made in tackling this emergency by overcharging for a critically important drug like naloxone,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter to the National Governors Association and National Association of Attorneys General.
Other treatments are also shown to be effective but there are some issues with these. Many have stringent rules and some of these rules are at times not based in the best literature available. At times, the stigmas against drug users are held by those treating them and used against them. Let’s be clear: relapse will happen but if forced out of care for relapsing you aren’t exactly helping them. I’ve seen this happen more times than I can count. They need support, but the combination of insurance and human incompetence combined is enough to stop that.
Bernie is also right that we lack the resources and infrastructure in this country to deal with this problem. He said as such speaking after the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman:
So I think the issues there are several-fold. The first and fundamental issue is, why is it that so many people, not just young people, gravitate toward opiates and toward heroin? Why? Why? What’s going on in our culture, where people know that taking powerful drugs — you gotta know it’s not good for you, and you gotta know that when you do these things they become addictive, and certainly most people know that heroin is a killer. Once you’re into heroin, it’s either jail or death. And, why? Second of all is, we are unprepared for the epidemic, in terms of our mental health capacity to treat people who need treatment. And one of the problems in Vermont is you have waiting lists of people who want to break the habit, want to break their addiction, and we can’t treat them when they want to do it. So you tell them, come back in six months. Well, in six months, they might not be prepared to take that step. I will tell you that in Vermont it is a very, very serious problem.
I see this problem as one of us misallocating our resources. We throw $51 billion to the war on drugs, plus into prisons and other punitive measures to punish an epidemic that is multifaceted and growing daily. It is time for a new strategy.
Tomorrow, we will look at South Carolina.