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The Politics of Lives Lost: Hollow Legislation Used as Political Leverage

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The Politics of Lives Lost: Hollow Legislation Used as Political Leverage

On this post-election day I’ve come to some painful realizations. Substance use and mental health concerns have finally started receiving national attention. The public has begun to see how it touches their lives.

Our officials, both those elected and appointed, are in most cases, at least talking about different strategies to tackle the problem. Leaders talked about bipartisan efforts to turn the tide of failed efforts. It’s one of those issues we could solve by setting aside differences. We’ve lost too many lives, seen too many broken families and watched communities disrupted for too long.

“There’s a harder battle left to fight.”

Since the passage of the Comprehensive Addiction Recovery Act (CARA) and the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act we’ve realized something else is wrong here. There’s a harder battle to left to fight.

Failed by both sides of the aisle

GOP Representatives needed to be able to go home to voters and say “I voted to pass a bill to address the substance use epidemic.”  Luckily they didn’t have to explain support for government spending for CARA or mandate states enforce parity.

Democrats threatened to derail CARA’s passage without the funding to make the bill effective. In the end we realized it was just posturing. The day came to stand firm and decline to sign a bill without funding and the Democrats balked. How could they return to their constituencies and explain how voting yes on a hollow bill would be a hollow action?

“$2,227 for each county already struggling to provide prevention, treatment and recovery support.”

Legislation created with good intentions has become a moment politicians can point to in order to say “Look! I did something about the crisis!” When CARA passed, Congressional leaders promised to $580 million to fund it. That amount barely scratches the surface of the problem. During the last legislative session that number dropped to $7 million. Congress described the $7 million as a “down-payment” on future funding to be determined at another time. That’s $2,227 per county already struggling to provide prevention, treatment and recovery support.

When CARA and MHPAEA were created, we asked tough questions. Congress made promises they didn’t keep. We lose hundreds of lives everyday to substance use and mental health-related death. Even worse, these issues were largely absent from the national conversation during this election.  States still don’t enforce parity. CARA remains effectively without funding.

To our leaders shaping public policy:

Why are you using legislation built to save lives as political currency?

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Born and raised in Denver, CO, Michael began has journey to recovery in 2013 following a ten year struggle with severe substance use disorder, incarceration and homelessness. It was then that Michael realized he was capable of becoming a better man, son, friend and member of the community. His struggles with the condition did not end there, but he learned about himself and his relationship with the world to ultimately enjoy living life the way it was. Today he has a family, a home, a career and is able to serve his community. Michael currently serves as Communications & Chapter Coordinator at Young People in Recovery and is pursuing a BA in political science from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.


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