Pubdate: Wed, 27 Jul 2016
Source: Washington Post (DC)
Copyright: 2016 The Washington Post Company
Author: Katie Zezima


Recovering Addicts, Others Make Addiction Key Part of Their Speeches

The nation's epidemic of opioid abuse, which has killed thousands of 
people over the past decade through powerful prescription painkillers 
and heroin, has taken on a prominent role at the Democratic National 
Convention - a sign of the issue's growing importance in both parties.

On Monday night, a woman whose daughter has struggled with addiction 
gave a prime-time speech, followed by the former governor of New 
Hampshire, where more than 400 people died of drug overdoses last 
year. Then, on Tuesday afternoon, people packed into a Quaker 
conference center in Philadelphia to hear delegates, elected 
officials and others talk about recovering from substance abuse and 
what needs to be done to combat it.

A similar forum was held at the Republican National Convention in 
Cleveland last week. Both conventions featured a recovery and 
wellness room for those suffering from addiction.

The focus on opiate addiction comes after a year in which the opiate 
epidemic drove a sustained conversation on the presidential campaign 
trail, particularly in New Hampshire, where voters told wrenching 
stories of how drug abuse upended lives and candidates told starkly 
personal stories about how addiction affected their families.

It also comes as addiction has moved into the political sphere, after 
years when advocates felt little was being done. The White House has, 
for the past few years, held summits on opiate addiction, and 
Congress last month passed a comprehensive bill backed by Republicans 
and Democrats to fight opioid abuse; President Obama signed it this week.

The issue has become a bipartisan one, with many on both sides 
agreeing that the focus must be on treating people with addiction, 
not on putting them in prison. However, several Republican 
presidential contenders last year stopped short of advocating that 
approach to other drug laws, most notably those involving marijuana 
and cocaine, which disproportionately affect African Americans. 
Opiate abuse predominately affects whites.

Last year, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton went to a roundtable 
discussion at a New Hampshire manufacturing facility, where Pamela 
Livengood told Clinton that she had to take care of her grandson 
because of drug abuse.

Livengood stood on the stage in Philadelphia on Monday night and told 
her story.

"For my 50th birthday, I got a 2-year-old," the Keene, N.H., woman 
said, recounting how her daughter could no longer care for her son 
because she was addicted to drugs. The boy is now living with his 
grandfather, she said.

"My story isn't unique," Livengood said. "This epidemic has 
devastated communities all over the country. It doesn't discriminate 
against age, race, gender or income. It affects all of us. But 
sometimes it feels like folks in Washington don't hear these stories."

Drug overdoses are now the leading cause of injury-related death in 
the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and 
Prevention. Heroin-related deaths have more than tripled since 2010, 
and, in 2014, more than 14,000 people died of overdoses involving 
prescription painkillers, the CDC said.

"Our policymakers have to understand that this is a situation and 
issue you can win on," Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, a recovering 
alcoholic, said at Tuesday's forum. "I don't mean to turn to 
politics, but families don't know where to turn."

Andrew Kolodny, the chief medical officer at Phoenix House, a 
national chain of rehab facilities, said it is remarkable that people 
are talking about opiate addiction at national political conventions, 
because it was swept under the rug until recently.

"It does seem like policymakers have recognized that we're in the 
midst of the worst addiction epidemics in our nation's history," he said.

Clinton, who made drug addiction part of her stump speech in the 
primaries, released a $10 billion plan last year to fight drug 
addiction. It includes widening access to treatment and recovery 
programs through a federal-state spending package and broadening 
access to Naloxone, a drug that can reverse the effects of an opiate overdose.

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has said that his plan 
to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border will keep out drugs, 
something that people who study drug trafficking said will not stop 
the flow of heroin. Trump has not offered any specifics on how he 
will fight drug abuse beyond that.

Drug abuse has become a factor in some Senate races, including in 
Ohio, where incumbent Sen. Rob Portman (R) and his challenger, former 
governor Ted Strickland (D), are accusing each other of exploiting 
the epidemic for political gain.

Portman held two drug-related events during the Republican National 
Convention and spoke on a panel discussion about abuse at the convention.

Philadelphia is a hotbed of drug abuse, with dealers selling some of 
the nation's purest heroin. The city serves as a hub for heroin 
distribution in southern New Jersey and the Philadelphia suburbs.

"We have the largest-scale open-air heroin market probably on the 
East Coast," said Patrick J. Trainor, a spokesman with the Drug 
Enforcement Administration in Philadelphia. It is about eight miles 
north of Wells Fargo Arena, where the convention is taking place.

"The politicians, when they talk about it, it's a start," Trainor 
said of drug abuse. "It's definitely a start, and we're really, 
really pleased with that."

Carol McDaid, who is in recovery, said she first tried to bring 
forums and a recovery room to the party conventions in 2008.

"Honestly, we were told by some of the folks we contacted, 'Our 
delegates really don't have these problems.' It just kind of stood 
you back on your heels," she said.

This year, delegates who are also addicts decided to talk about their 
struggles and recovery.

Ramon Ryan, a Democratic delegate from Tennessee, said he wondered 
whether he would be able to attend a recovery meeting while at the convention.

"I heard not only are there recovery meetings, there's this amazing 
caucus," he said. "We are having a public conversation about this issue."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom