From Florida to Alaska, the opioid crisis seems to be a big talking point for just about every candidate in the midterm elections. It's a problem facing nearly every state in the country -- though some are beinghit harder than others -- and politicians on both sides of the aisle are touting their solution, while pointing fingers as to which party is to blame.
Opioid addiction and overdoses have grown steadily over the last several years, but the treatment plans and solutions that don't involve handcuffs haven't kept up with the need. Blue Cross Blue Shieldreported that between 2010 and 2016, people diagnosed with an addiction to opioids skyrocketed an eye-popping 493 percent.
In 2010, only 1.4 incidences of opioid abuse among every 1000 members was reported, but by 2016, the rate had jumped to 8.3 incidences for every 1000 members. The number of people receiving medication-assisted treatment during this time only saw an increase of 65 percent.
Treating the addiction isn't a one-fits-all approach either. Many medical doctors consider medication-assisted treatment, which often includes medications such as methadone or buprenorphine, as the most effective way to combat opioid addiction. Meanwhile, some critics in the medical and mental health fields argue more medication isn't the answer.
"Anybody that is only being prescribed buprenorphine and is not having any counselling, they are all doomed, in my view, to return to use and abuse of opiates," Dr. Louis E. Baxter Sr., president of the Professional Assistance Program of New Jersey,told Healthline.
Opioids have found themselves on the frontline of political debate since the 2016 presidential election. You may recall the term "Oxy electorate" being given to Trump strongholds that also had high areas of opioid abuse.
In my home state of Tennessee, Democrat Phil Bredesen is facing down Republican Marsha Blackburn, with both placing a focus on the opioid epidemic at home. (Deaths related to fentanyl, a synthetic opioid were up 70 percent in Tennessee last year.) Recently, Blackburn launched a series of attack ads claiming Bredesen allowed the opioid rate in the state to double while simultaneously holding up to $1 million worth of stock in a pharmaceutical company at the "root of the crisis."
Bredesen hit back with his own ad pointing out that Blackburn co-sponsored a law that weakened efforts by the DEA to strike against doctors and drug distribution companies peddling opioids on the black market. Both ads seemed to hold up under modest political scrutiny.
Just like nearly every issue in politics, how to best cull the problem is the cause of clash between many of the candidates.
New York congressional candidate and Democrat Anthony Brindisi is campaigning behind the issue by advocating for more treatment accessibility for addicts. At the same time he's fired off against his Republican competitor Claudia Tenney for voting against Obamacare saying the the move takes away the health coverage many addicts need.
Not surprisingly, Tenney has taken a different approach and pushed for harsher punishments on illegal sellers of opioids and a study to determine the role of government-funded Medicare in over-prescribing drugs.
It's much of the same when examining the race in Pennsylvania between Democrat Conor Lamb and Republican candidate Rick Saccone. Lamb is making the case that only the government can build the proper treatment facilities and provide the health insurance needed to support addicts, while Saccone argues it's not a "big government solution." The attack ads are bloodthirsty as well, with Republicans accusing Lamb of cutting deals with drug kignpins, while offering few solutions.
While the solutions to combating the United States opioid epidemic may differ, both parties seem to be placing a high level of importance on it. That's a good thing. Every member of Congress is going to want his or her name on the bill that solves the crisis. The key is going to be both parties somehow finding a way to work together and develop that magical piece of legislation that puts the opioid epidemic in America's rear view mirror.