Portman discusses addiction

Published 1:14 pm Friday, March 17, 2017

Senator says treatment must be main approach

U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, recently spoke with the podcast for Cover 2 Resources, a drug addiction recovery source, discussing the opioid epidemic that plagues Ohio.

Portman took the time to emphasize the need for recovery-based spending and community resources, noting that while cutting the supply side is also important, it does little to stem the flow of drugs as long as there is a demand.

Portman started by explaining how, as a member of the House of Representatives in the mid 1990s, he had met with a mother of a child who had died of an overdose. He came prepared to discuss all the different ways the federal government was helping stem the flow of drugs, including destroying drug crops in Central and South America. However, the mother, who was attempting to rally community resources, but finding herself encountering denial and stigma that kept schools, churches and other community organizations from helping, had one simple question for him: “How does that help me?”

Email newsletter signup

“I was frankly embarrassed that I didn’t have a better answer for her (about how to engage her community in solving the addiction problem).”

Even though addiction was “not the epidemic it is today,” Portman explained, he began studying the problem.

Since then Portman has supported community coalitions in fighting the drug epidemic and notes that “it is making a difference, but frankly not enough of a difference.”

Government funding helps too, which is why he continually fights for funding for the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, or CARA. Funding for CARA, which this past year totaled $181 million, can be applied to programs like drug courts and veterans courts that place individuals in recovery rather than jail.

“(I’ve) seen some great work in veteran’s courts,” he said.

But that isn’t enough either, and he feels that the government should help those who are voluntarily seeking to break the cycle of addiction as well.

This is why, despite the protests of some in his party, he continues to support professional health care intervention for those with addiction and mental health issues through expanded Medicaid access.

“I am concerned, particularly given this epidemic, that we not pull the rug out from under those people,” Portman said in the podcast. “Because it’s hard enough to find insurance to cover treatment.”

While he acknowledged that Medicaid, like any program, has its issues, “it’s a necessary program right now,” he said.

He explained that many of his colleagues, particularly those from states that did not expand Medicaid, don’t see the need. It’s a continual struggle, he explained, to make them see the necessity.

Portman also discussed recent efforts like the STOP Act to curb the flow of synthetic opioids from China, but said that over the course of his career he has come to feel that address the demand side of the addiction epidemic is more useful that attacking the supply side.

While he doesn’t minimize the importance of attacking the supply chain, he said, “as long as we have a high demand in this country for drugs, I don’t think anything you do on the supply side is going to be the silver bullet.”

“I think we have to focus on the demand side,” he continued.

“As long as there is a demand, there will be people… looking to make a buck figuring out a way to get this poison into our communities.”

He noted that he brought the Drug Czar to Portsmouth about seven years ago, after first being elected to the Senate, and that following that they made great progress in closing many of the “pill mills” there. But closing the pill mills only opened the door for heroin and other opioid drugs to fill the void.

In addition to funding treatment for those in active addiction, he explained, he feels it’s also important to educate those who aren’t addicted yet about how opioids work.

He said that while he understands the need for pain management, if you get an injury “be careful, because your brain could be affected for a lifetime.”

“This is not based on poor decisions that someone made,” Portman said. “This is based on addiction, which is an illness. Which is like other illnesses, something that requires treatment to be remedied.”

The entire podcast is available at https://cover2.org/ep-78-government-funds-substance-abuse-programs-rob-portman-ohio-senator/.