Inside Elizabeth Warren’s $100 Billion Policy Plan to Tackle the Opioid Epidemic
Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren has consistently rolled out a number of progressive policy platforms in recent weeks. On Wednesday, the 2020 hopeful introduced a $100 billion plan to tackle the deadly opioid epidemic.
The proposal is an updated version of the CARE Act that Warren and Maryland’s Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings introduced in Congress last year, and provides a 10-year plan to fund treatment, support, and research for opioid addiction. The proposal will focus on areas nationwide that are most impacted by the epidemic by providing support to state and nonprofit recovery efforts.
“Too many folks in Washington care more about protecting the wealthy from paying their fair share than they do about solving these kinds of urgent national problems,” Warren wrote in a Medium post on Wednesday. “I want to change that.”
Warren said her previously proposed 2% tax on wealthy Americans who are worth $50 million or more would help fund the CARE Act, which also addresses disparities in access to care for low income communities and communities of color.
She has said the tax would raise $2.75 trillion over a decade, which Warren has proposed to fund her other initiatives, like free college tuition and free universal child care.
Nancy Nielsen, the senior associate dean for health policy in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at University of Buffalo told Fortune the proposal will likely face pushback on this front. The next challenge is garnering support in Congress.
Even so, more people are realizing how widespread this issue is.
“The opioid crisis has touched virtually every family in one way or another in the country,” Nielsen said, adding that Warren’s approach is better than some previous proposals, and addresses opioid addiction as a massive public health problem.
Warren further pointed to companies and families, like the Sackler family, who have profited from fueling addiction.
“The ongoing opioid crisis is about health care. But it’s about more than that,” Warren wrote.
Purdue Pharma, owned by the Sacklers, along with eight members of the family, were named as defendants in several lawsuits over deaths caused by opioid abuse. In internal correspondences reviewed by ProPublica, Purdue Pharma executives also discussed expanding into opioid addiction recovery services, which one team working on the project described as an “attractive market.”
Warren’s 2018 Senate re-election campaign accepted $2,500 in donations from Beverly Sackler, whose late husband ran Purdue Pharma. An aide of the Senator said Tuesday that Warren would donate the money to charity.
In a statement to Fortune, a spokeswoman for the Sackler family said Beverly Sackler’s donation was “made with the best intentions.” The spokesperson added: “We would welcome a genuine dialogue with the senator that’s fact-based, as the facts clearly demonstrate that the company started by Beverly’s family has for decades been the industry leader in combatting opioid abuse while providing products essential for the treatment of serious chronic pain.”
More than 130 people die each day in the United States after overdosing on opioids, including prescription pain medications, heroin, and fentanyl. More than 47,000 Americans died from opioid overdoses in 2017, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
The CARE Act, modeled after the Ryan White CARE Act introduced in the ’90s to improve access to care for individuals and families affected by HIV/AIDS, outlines an extensive funding plan.
States, territories and tribal governments would receive $4 billion in general funding. Another $2.7 billion would be allocated to cities and counties that have been hit hardest by opioid addiction, with $1.4 billion going to areas with the highest overdose rates.
Research, public health monitoring, and training would receive $1.7 billion in funding. Public and nonprofit support centers would receive $1.1 billion to expand services for treatment, recovery, and harm reduction, and $500 million would be allocated toward expanding access to naloxone, commonly used to counter the effects of an opioid overdose.
The proposal would also ensure access to mental health services to people in need—services that are too often severely underfunded, as both mental illness and addiction are criminalized.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 2 million people with mental illness are booked into jails every year, and at least 83% of people in jail who struggle with mental illness did not receive the help they needed.
“Moving away from criminalization while building new treatment infrastructure that’s grounded in harm reduction must be central to any plan moving forward,” Zachary Siegel, a reporting fellow at the Health In Justice Action Lab at Northeastern University told Fortune.
Some advocates worry Warren’s proposal doesn’t go far enough, as some argue that the proposal is expansive and provides funding that is desperately needed, but could do more.
“America’s treatment infrastructure is in ruins,” said Siegel. “A harm reduction advocate recently told me that throwing money into this system is akin to buying new furniture for a house on fire. Looking at how federal money is currently being spent by states, it’s likely that a significant chunk of the money Warren’s plan makes available would go to waste.”
Warren has so far positioned herself as a leading progressive candidate in the 2020 Democratic presidential race.
In recent weeks, she introduced plans to help students with student loan debt in her college debt forgiveness proposal, and later rolled out a proposal to reward hospitals that make childbirth safer for black women.
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