Editorial, Opinion

EDITORIAL: Overlapping public health issues: opioid addiction and HIV

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren announced she is drafting legislation that addresses the opioid epidemic taking place across the country right now and calls for a budget of $100 billion to be allocated to states and individual treatment centers. The bill is one of many efforts put forth by senators to combat the crisis which seems to be getting worse every day in this country.

Massachusetts, along with other states in New England, has seen some of the more fatal consequences of the epidemic, which prompted many lawmakers to find solutions to stop the number of lives being taken by crisis. And with the soaring rates of deaths due to overdose from the deadly drug, officials are more concerned with treating the disease, rather than regulating the drug itself — a measure that doesn’t seem to be effective in solving the crisis in the long term. Working to criminalize the drug doesn’t provide any relief to those who are currently addicted and require rehabilitation in order to re-enter society and support themselves.

Opioid addiction is a public health issue, and just like all public health issues, it touches other aspects of health as well. It’s important to realize how these problems are connected if we want to make strides in the public health sector, which Massachusetts is considered a champion of. Viewing the issue through this lens can lend us with a better understanding of the issue and result in drafting policy that addresses the problem on a more holistic level. This can ultimately help more people and, in the case of public health, support people’s quality of life.

This bill, which has been called CARE in reference to a bill with a similar name and goal in the ‘90s, brings attention to those suffering from AIDS as a result of their opioid addiction. This happens because if the needles used by addicts are not properly sanitized, other users are susceptible to catching HIV. And such diseases tend to target the same marginalized communities each time. Many homeless people also deal with AIDS, so this proposal is a way to address a population that is frequently neglected when considering who lives in our society. Everyone — including low-income populations and other minority communities — is entitled to good health and governmental assistance.

A lot of people have not made the connection that the epidemic is driving up the number of people with AIDS. Contracting HIV has debilitating consequences on people’s health and previous administrations have had to address the crisis in dire situations. Therefore, it’s good to know that politicians are taking initiative on this crisis and acknowledging the interconnectivity of the issues. In fact, U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings, a Democrat from Maryland, has agreed to co-sponsor the bill in Congress, which will hopefully prompt lawmakers from both sides of the aisle to support it in some way. In order for us to accomplish anything related to the opioid epidemic, these bills need bipartisan support, especially when our current president doesn’t seem to fully agree with either side — or even cares about public health for that matter.

While $100 billion does seem jarring, this number actually represents the amount of money that will be divided and allocated to each state, contingent on the severity of the crisis. This will be gauged by looking at the highest overdose rates per state. Providing money to each state depending on its needs is an effective way to handle the crisis, as some regions simply suffer more than others.

Even if this number is still troubling, we have to remember how many people have been hurt by the crisis over the past decade. By 2020, more than a million people could die from opioid overdose. Something needs to be done. Big government expenditures like these could actually be helpful for alleviating the effects of the epidemic. Health care is expensive, but such is the cost for ensuring the health of all Americans.

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