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Rossi: Trump making opioids more dangerous than ever in Virginia

News ArticleThe Roanoke Times

Rossi, a former federal prosecutor, is one of three candidates seeking the Democratic nomination in the June 13 primary.

This has been a challenging year for many Virginians. Our new President, for whom most Virginians did not vote and do not support, has begun implementing policies that are divisive at best: an unconstitutional Muslim ban, a proposed massive tax cut for billionaires who do not deserve it, and fighting to end coverage for pre-existing conditions.

But, his proposal to eliminate 95 percent of funding from the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) is even worse. It’s willfully throwing gasoline on the fire of a public health crisis in Virginia that is killing nearly four Virginians every day. That’s a rate higher than gun deaths (2.56 Virginians per day) and car accidents (1.92 Virginians per day).

Virginia must lead the way in addressing opioid addiction. Gov. McAuliffe already has, last year declaring a public health emergency, and this year signing several new laws to provide access to lifesaving anti-overdose medications, to toughen the laws around opioid prescriptions, to increase syringe services, and to put a safety net in place for infants exposed to opioids before they are even born.

The challenge is that for most of the last two decades, we’ve treated the opioid crisis as a legal issue. I should know. As Assistant US Attorney, I helped lead the largest opioid investigation in United States history, Operation “Cotton Candy,” against Dr. William Hurwitz, a pain doctor running a pill mill in Northern Virginia, resulting in the tragic deaths of more than ten people. Hurwitz once prescribed more than 1,200 pain pills PER DAY to a single patient. And we know that too often, if an addict’s access to prescription drugs is cut off, they frequently turn to heroin, introducing a whole new set of thorny challenges.

Across Virginia, both as a 27-year federal prosecutor and in my campaign for lieutenant governor, I’ve heard the stories and seen the pain on countless faces of people as they watched a son or daughter, sister or brother, husband or wife, mother or father, or even themselves, fall helplessly into the grips of addiction.

What’s always been clear to me is that addiction is a disease, and mass-incarceration is not the cure. It will take more than law enforcement to stem this terrible tide. We need to recognize the fundamental mental health challenges, the terrible grip addiction can have on a person, and the tools we need to help them break free.

Unfortunately, Trump didn’t just stop at slashing funding for the ONDCP. The health care legislation he and the House Republicans celebrated last week would also slash Medicaid funding for substance abuse programs and deem addiction a “pre-existing condition,” driving up rates and pushing addicts out of critical insurance coverage. In other words, they are cruelly eliminating the tools addicts need when they need them the most.

What Virginia has done is a significant step in the exact right direction. But we need to go even further, with life-saving investments in mental health treatment and counseling, so that we can save Virginians’ lives.

But what President Trump proposes is wrong — and for too many Virginians, dead wrong.