How Will The Opioid Crisis Affect Midterm Elections?

2018 Midterm Elections

Political Hot Potato

Give opposing candidates a hot issue that impacts their voters heavily and they will square off and offer the solutions that they promise will fix the problem if elected. There perhaps has never been a bigger problem in our country with so few real workable solutions as the opioid crisis. The issue will be a big factor in the midterm elections.

What Influences Voters?

Voters are strongly influenced by issues that directly involve their lives. We  have such an issue that must be addressed and solved. Nationwide, every 12 minutes an American dies from drugs. In America, a baby is born dependent on opioids every 19 minutes! Drug related suicides are off the chart, productivity is plummeting, and per capita costs are soaring because of opioid abuse.

 This is especially true in states heaviest impacted, such as in Appalachia, predominantly in West Virginia, where the number of overdose deaths peaked at 733 in 2016 with the majority of deaths attributed to synthetic opioids and heroin. The total cost in 2015 was $8,838,278,000, with $4,378 per capita being the screaming highest in the US. This came to a total 12.03% share of the state GDP.

Where Is The Biggest Political Battleground?

You bet this is a major issue in the upcoming election nationwide, particularly in West Virginia, and throughout the entire Appalachian area, the hardest hit region in the country. Trump covered all of Appalachia in 2016 emphasizing the opioid issue and won 7 out of 10 states, largely because he addressed the issue which seemed odd at the time but like an arrow slammed right to a vital issue that was totally out of control. Nearly everyone in the area knew of someone devastated by addiction, death or suicide induced by drugs.

Fallout in West Virginia from Opioids and the economy

Dr. Judith Feinberg, a nationally-recognized expert on the opioid epidemic in West Virginia, Appalachia and rural America had this to say:

 “You can’t imagine what life in these communities is like due to the opioid epidemic. You drive through little towns in West Virginia, and half of the storefronts are boarded up. You can see that the bottom of the economy has fallen out of these places due to the loss of jobs in extraction industries like mining, and there are very few resources. A middle school principal in Wyoming County, WV was telling us how few kids in her school live in a home with two biological parents. We’re talking about communities where over 40 percent of the children are in foster care or are being raised by grandparents. There is no aspect of life that is untouched by the opioid epidemic. We’ve got to do better than this, or we’re going to lose way too many human beings as a result.”

When there is abuse or neglect, Social Services take charge. Many of the children are moved to foster homes. In West Virginia, 5,481 children were removed to foster homes in 2016, of which 16% were infants. In 47% of these placements, parental substance use was a factor.

What Will The Future Be Like If The Crisis Is Not Brought Under Control

          Yes, West Virginia was the hardest hit, but it was closely followed by New Hampshire, Washington, D.C., Maryland and Massachusetts. No state has been spared. It is predicted, unless it is brought under control, the suicide rate will rise to rank in the top 5 causes of death, and the whole opioid crisis could reach the cost of a trillion dollars annually in just a few years.

The Final Bottom Line of Costs For West Virginia

Alex Brill, national journalist specializing in medical costs, wrote in the AEI an article entitled The geographic variations in the cost of the opioid crisis, about the costs per county and state. If you, the reader, are interested in the costs and statistics regarding your particular state and county, here is data that may concern you. Here is an abstract of his piece:

 “As the opioid epidemic worsens in the United States, the toll it imposes on the US economy has risen to staggering heights. The White House Council of Economic Advisers recently estimated the economic burden, inclusive of the value of statistical lives lost, to be $504 billion in 2015. More narrowly constructed estimates find cost burdens as high as $95 billion in 2016.

We estimate per-capita state-level and county-level non-mortality and total economic burdens of the opioid crisis in 2015 by distributing national estimates based on variation in local wages, health care costs, and criminal justice costs along with variation in opioid-related death and addiction rates, and average age-adjusted value of statistical lives lost. Our findings indicate that among the lower 48 states in 2015, per-capita non-mortality costs were highest in the District of Columbia ($493) and New Hampshire ($360). Median per-capita non-mortality costs were $205 in Kentucky and Pennsylvania. Per-capita total costs (including mortality costs) were highest in West Virginia ($4,378) and the District of Columbia ($3,657). Median per-capita total costs were $1,672 in Nevada.

The Map Below Is Almost Self Explanatory

 Detailing the facts of West Virginia’s woes, and knowing that every state, county and even every city and probably country town, literally every bit of real estate in the United States has been the victim of this plague, there is little doubt that the crisis will play a big role in the upcoming midterm elections. A glance at the graphic image of the map below tells the story of how pervasive this evil is and how it has infected literally the entirety of our country.

Solutions That Are Proposed

Midterm elections may ride on who has the most sensible and promising platform on how to fix it. Democrats emphasize treatment, more insurance coverage, more help to the individuals involved. Republicans advocate law enforcement, means of stopping the flow of drugs from Mexico, and stiff criminal penalties for dealers. Every politician in the running must have a position, and the issue can name the winner.

Bipartisan Legislation

Recent legislation passed would crack down on mailed shipments of illegal drugs like fentanyl and encourage the development of non-addictive pain therapies. Trump, who campaigned on ending opioid addiction in 2016, has talked about stepping up law enforcement, even endorsing execution for drug dealers. The House and Senate bills have generally stressed more of a public health and treatment approach.

Washington Is Beginning To Wake Up

When Washington saw the political impact of the opioid issue on the 2016 campaign, a flurry of legislative initiatives followed with 57 bipartisan bills passing through committee and the White House launching public service TV ads targeting opioid addiction. Republicans are preparing to spend an additional $1 billion on the opioid crisis.

Suicide In Montana And North Dakota

The question now is whether we'll see a similar response to the surge in suicide rates? For example, Montana and North Dakota both have high-profile U.S. Senate races this year with Democratic incumbents in states carried by Donald Trump. The former has the highest suicide rate in the U.S. The latter had the highest rate of increase.

Where Politicians Go, Money Follows

The good news for people suffering with the depression and despair that can lead to suicide is that, where politicians go, money and resources follow. If suicide prevention does become part of the 2018 campaign, the results could mean more help for people who need it most. There are over 70 major bills in Congress now, which will eventually be resolved into one major bill addressing the problem.

Potential For Change And The Foundation Of Hope

          If there has ever been a big issue player in political campaigns throughout the US, it is the opioid epidemic, particularly in the most heavily hit areas, such as seen in the map earlier in this article. Listen for the rhetoric to come in future elections, starting with the midterm election on November 6, 2018. Now is the pivotal time that can bring the remedy that this nation truly deserves.