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Warren tackles opioid crisis

Democratic presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren addressed the opioid crisis during a visit to Littleton High School on Saturday, March 23. (Photo by Angel Larcom) (click for larger version)
March 27, 2019
Left to right, Panelists Tony Wright, Nancy Frank, Ed Shanshala, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Jennifer Goulet and Mike Lee discuss the opiod crisis and the CARE Act at Littleton High School on March 23.

Warren tackles opioid crisis

By Angel Larcom


LITTLETON — "Washington works great for drug companies, just not for anyone trying to get a prescription filled," said Sen. Elizabeth Warren at Littleton High School on Saturday, March 23.

The event, dubbed 'Community Conversation with Elizabeth Warren,' was the Democratic Presidential hopeful's first campaign visit to Littleton. The topic of focus at this one-hour event was the opioid crisis. Warren addressed a crowd of roughly 100 attendees.

Along with Maryland Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, Warren is currently co-sponsoring H.R. 5545: Comprehensive Addiction Resource Emergency Act of 2018 (CARE), which is designed to treat addiction like the public health emergency that it is. Introduced by Cummings on April 18, 2018, in the House of Representative, this bill has been slowly making its way through several subcommittees, most recently the Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security and Investigations. No significant action has occurred on the CARE Act since May 2018.

Drug overdoses are the most significant contributing factor to the declining life expectancy of US citizens and New Hampshire has one of the top three highest rates of opioid-related deaths. According to Vermont Representative Peter Welch (D), the CARE Act is "a full-scale Marshall plan to combat the opioid crisis by providing states and communities with $100 billion in federal funding over ten years."

Early in the Littleton session, Warren explained that although all CARE Act funding received by communities has to be used for addiction services, there is no rigid structure outlining how it should be spent. She said it is up to "the folks on the front lines" to determine the best way to address local addiction issues and said the job of the federal government is to be a good partner in this rather than use a cookie cutter approach that won't work in all communities. Warren also mentioned that the CARE Act includes a provision to hold "big pharma" (pharmaceutical companies) responsible for miss marketing addictive drugs to consumers.

Panelists at the one-hour event in Littleton High School's cafeteria on Saturday afternoon included moderator Ed Shanshala, CEO of Ammonoosuc Community Health Center; Mike Lee, President of Weeks Hospital, Jennifer Goulet, a community health worker at the North Country Health Consortium; Nancy Frank, Chief Executive Officer of the North Country Health Consortium; and Tony Wright, a recovering addict. Each panelist took turns discussing their personal experiences at the front lines of the opioid epidemic in the North Country; what works and what is failing.

Lee raised a point about pharmaceutical companies, saying "Let's keep big pharma as the bad guy, but I think they need to be part of the solution. We need to get a longer lasting medication out there that doesn't have street value."

Goulet discussed the success of the North Country Health Consortium's Wellness and Recovery Model Program, where many recovery coaches are former addicts.

"We provide advocacy, validation and support. We provide success and hope every single day," Goulet said.

Frank, CEO of the North Country Health Consortium, said, "We've touched one thousand individuals in the last year from the north country. Admissions into treatment have increased. We can now address addiction as a disease as it should be."

Frank also discussed a couple of challenges inherent to the region, commenting "It is challenging to get the necessary workforce in the North Country. To get qualified people in this area is very hard. Funding is always an issue."

Wright, who has been in recovery for a little more than a year, said that he was clean thanks to the help of the Friendship House in Bethlehem. He pointed out that public transportation is a serious issue in the North Country.

When discussing support availability, Wright said, "It seems like the North Country is the last place to get anything. This part of the state gets shut out for some reason."

After listening to the panelists, Warren said, "It's going to take all of us to make the kind of changes we need in this country. Two hundred people die from an overdose a day, with no end in sight and less than one in ten have a chance of getting the medical treatment they need."

She continued, "Addiction is a medical issue, not a moral failing, and we need to treat it like that. And to me, everything flows from that."

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Varney Smith
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