Last week, the Senate passed a massive bill comprised of roughly 70 pieces of individual legislation aimed at combating what the media has dubbed the “opioid crisis.” For the past several years, the number of Americans dying from opioid overdoses—like fentanyl and heroin—has increased dramatically.
Last year, roughly 72,000 Americans died from drug overdoses. That’s more American deaths than the entirety of the Vietnam War and nearly 10 times the number of Americans who’ve been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001. It’s also double the number of people who died in car wrecks last year.
It’s estimated that of the 72,000 Americans who died from drug overdoses in 2017, at least 30,000 died from heroin and fentanyl-laced synthetic opioids. This is an epidemic. And it has had a devastating impact—beyond just the staggering loss of lives—on many communities throughout the United States.
So, it’s understandable that Congress believes it needs to do something to address it.
But was passing a new $8.4 billion money bomb—on top of $3.8 billion in increased ‘opioid’ funding in the final Labor-HHS-DoD ‘minibus’ appropriations bill—really the right response from Washington to solve this issue? Or is it merely aimed at treating (or unintentionally mistreating) the symptom instead of the underlying disease?
Those are important questions. And it’s not yet clear that there are definitive answers to them. However, what is clear is that there are other factors at play regarding the opioid epidemic that Washington—and civil society—have not fully addressed.
Some of these factors include:
- The proliferation of multinational drug cartels operating on our southern border and in Central America, their drug distribution networks embedded within many of our sanctuary cities, and the fact that the cartels have increasingly turned to heroin and fentanyl to finance their operations.
- The taxpayer-funded expansion of Medicaid under Obamacare and its impact on the cost of prescription painkillers to socioeconomic groups more at risk for addiction.
- The impact that broken families and unstable homes have on increasing the risk for drug abuse and addiction.
These factors—all of which deserve increased scrutiny as to their contribution to the ongoing opioid epidemic—cannot be addressed by spending money we don’t have on 70 new programs that may or may not work.
Ultimately, this gets at the heart of our mission here, which is to highlight the causes and dire consequences that the ballooning $21.4 trillion national debt will have on the lives of the next generation of American citizens and leaders—specifically millennials and the generation that follows.
One of the new provisions in the Senate’s opioid bill provides for the creation of $2 billion in new grants to states to spend on fighting this epidemic. What isn’t discussed, however, is that this new pot of money will spark new special interests who will continually lobby Congress for more money for this program each and every year.
Many are already saying the bill doesn’t spend enough and it hasn’t even been signed into law yet!
This is emblematic of a chronic problem in Congress. Rather than creating clear outcome-based goals, the only metric our elected officials are measured by is how much federal taxpayer money he or she supports spending on a particular cause.
This is unfortunate and untenable. Not only because there are potentially—likely—other factors not associated with merely spending money that are fueling the epidemic that could and should be examined, but also because we’re setting ourselves up for economic disaster which will only further devastate families and our civil society.
Not every problem requires spending money to solve and indeed many new problems often arise from doing just that.
And while we often focus on the national debt, wasteful spending, and the fiscal problems that plague our government, it’s ultimately not about the money.
It’s about the devastating human impact that such debt and profligacy will cause to our families, our communities, our future, and our nation.
Adding to the potential for even greater despair in an incomplete effort to end the despair caused by something like the opioid epidemic is not a remedy. It’s an overdose in its own right.