Missed Opportunity: What Last Night’s Debate Says about the Current State of Addiction Awareness and Political Will

Let’s start with some numbers:

If you’ve been paying attention during this year’s admittedly bizarre presidential election cycle, you will notice that each figure above corresponds to a state that has been tasked with hosting a presidential or vice presidential debate in 2016, the last painting an overall picture of the current state of heroin and opioid addiction in the United States. Despite the urgent and alarming heroin and opioid abuse climate in each state and the country as a whole, however, Americans are not likely to hear any conversation regarding this urgent and pervasive public health crisis.

The State of Things

Last night, the nation saw the 2016 presidential candidates assemble on Long Island, a region that has arguably become the northeast cradle of opioid abuse, for the first of three debates. What followed was nothing short of a spectacle that, at times, bordered on absurd, no matter where one falls on the political spectrum. While the event represented an opportunity to have a frank and substantive discussion on a leading preventable killer of Americans, both candidates remained silent on the issue. It was apparently more important to engage in the same divisive rhetoric that has been the hallmark of this election, going back 18 months.

Plenty of Blame to Go Around

As much as we’d like to place the blame solely on Trump and Clinton for their relative silence, we must recognize that the moderator, and the media in general, bare some culpability in the lack of conversation. When Prince died, American opioid addiction saw a brief uptick in media coverage; however when landmark legislation was passed as part of the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, coverage was scarce at best. The debate was broken into several 15-minute blocks; and it is altogether tragic to think that one of these blocks couldn’t be allocated toward the most significant and urgent public health crisis facing the country. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look as though we can expect anything to change going forward.