After hearing one story after another about substance abuse problems from potential voters, Hillary Clinton asked aides to begin searching for possible ways to tackle what she calls the “silent epidemic” if she is elected president.
Senior campaign policy advisers Ann O’Leary and Maya Harris recently participated in group chats, through Google Hangouts, with Iowa and New Hampshire experts on substance abuse to look for possible solutions.
They talked about the problems facing the two states, including the spread of meth and syringe injected drugs in rural communities in Iowa and opioid abuse in New Hampshire, a Clinton aide said.
“I think a lot of people are thinking, well, that’s somebody else’s problem, that’s not my problem,” Clinton said at a roundtable on her first campaign trip to New Hampshire in April. “And indeed, it is all of our problem and we don’t have enough resources so that if somebody decides that they wanted to get help, where do you send them to? What kind of opportunities do they have for treatment? And I am convinced that the mental health issues, because I consider substance abuse part of mental health issues, is going to be a big part of my campaign because increasingly it’s a big issue that people raise with me.”
Clinton’s aides spoke with lawmakers, representatives of non-profit organizations and government task forces, police officers and those whose loved ones died after battling drug abuse about possible plans to adequately fund treatment programs, address health care gaps and boost services in rural areas and access to mental health services, the aide said.
The experts talked about the need for the prevention and treatment over criminalization, the nationwide shortage of treatment programs and ways to support for law enforcement and treatment providers.
Clinton supports adequately funding substance abuse treatment programs – not cutting them -- and ensuring insurance companies take care of addiction in the same way they approach physical health, the aide said.
The issue is not a new one for Clinton. She has spoke about drug abuse and mental health for decades.
As first lady of Arkansas, Clinton held a conference on drug abuse, started a public-private program to educate children about drug abuse prevention and treatment and joined with Blue Cross BlueShield of Arkansas to provide children with drug abuse insurance.
As first lady of the United States, she tried to ensure mental illness and substance abuse treatment was covered by insurance companies regardless of pre-existing conditions or employment as part of her failed effort to overhaul the health care system.
And as a senator from New York, she pushed bills that would prohibit employers and health plans from imposing certain treatment limits for mental illness that do not apply to other medical conditions; provide access to substance abuse treatment services and combat the growing use of so-called club drugs, including ecstasy.
But on the campaign trail she often says she has been surprised to learn about the issue so much in the early nominating states. She has been to Iowa and New Hampshire twice she launched her campaign.
“I have to tell you, before I went to Iowa last week I wasn't aware of the depth of feeling people had about substance abuse issues, so here again, I heard it in New Hampshire, so I want people to know that I'm listening,” Clinton said in New Hampshire in April after the issue was brought up again.
Clinton has laid out four areas she wants to tackle if she’s elected, including strengthening families and communities, which would include substance abuse and mental health programs. She is expected to begin laying out policy proposals after her June 13 kickoff rally.