Responding to what she called a “quiet epidemic” of heroin and prescription opiate abuse, Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton proposed a $10 billion plan Wednesday to treat addicts and curb incarceration for nonviolent drug offenses.
The program, much of which would be funded by the federal government, would also help get a life-saving rescue drug into the hands of more emergency responders to improve the odds for overdose victims.
The plan, announced in an op-ed in the Manchester, N.H., Union Leader newspaper, grew out of months of discussion of national drug addiction at Clinton campaign events in New Hampshire, Iowa and elsewhere. The topic comes up nearly every time Clinton engages voters in public, and she has made the scourge of drug addiction a part of her stump speech.
In the op-ed, Clinton recounted her discussion with a retired doctor in New Hampshire in April, just after she entered the 2016 race.
“He said his biggest worry was the rising tide of heroin addiction in the state, following a wave of prescription drug abuse,” Clinton wrote. “To be candid, I didn’t expect what came next. In state after state, this issue came up again and again — from so many people, from all walks of life, in small towns and big cities.”
Her proposal would widen access to treatment and recovery programs, chiefly through a new $7.5 billion federal-state spending package. States that meet new federal tests for treatment and other resources would get $4 from the federal government for every $1 spent.
Part of that cost would be offset, Clinton’s campaign maintains, by reduced costs in the prison and criminal justice systems if fewer low-level drug offenders were behind bars.
Clinton cited statistics showing that only 10 percent of the 23 million addicted Americans are getting treatment, and that in 2013, more Americans died from overdoses than car crashes.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, deaths involving heroin increased from 3,041 in 2008 to 8,260 in 2013, the latest statistics available.
“This is not new. We’re not just now 'discovering' this problem,” she wrote. “But we should be saying enough is enough. It’s time we recognize as a nation that for too long, we have had a quiet epidemic on our hands.”
People with addiction have found that treatment facilities are full and insurance companies won't cover the cost. The Affordable Care Act mandates that insurance plans make substance abuse and mental health treatment essential benefits, but treatment is often hard to come by and barriers to accessing it remain.
Also Wednesday, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican presidential contender, released a new television ad casting treatment for drug addiction as a “pro-life” issue.
“For those whose lives we have a chance to save, I want us to try to save those lives,” Christie says in the ad. “Because I believe every one of those lives is a precious gift from God.”
Katie Zezima contributed to this report.