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Elizabeth Warren, Elijah Cummings unveil plan to "end the opioid crisis"

Elizabeth Warren using policy proposals to stand out

Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren has joined with Rep. Elijah Cummings to reintroduce an ambitious plan they first proposed last year to "end the opioid crisis." This time, the Massachusetts senator and longtime Maryland Democratic congressman would pay for it with a tax on the mega-rich.

Warren has made what she calls an "ultra-millionaire" tax a central part of her platform on the stump, saying it could cover universal child care, public college tuition and millions of Americans' student loan debt. Now, she'd use it to foot the bill for tackling the opioid epidemic, as well.

Overdose deaths involving an opioid have increased six-fold over the past 18 years, with nearly 50,000 recorded by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 2017. The Comprehensive Addiction Resources Emergency (CARE) Act Warren and Cummings co-sponsored last year would allocate $100 billion over 10 years for opioid treatment and addiction prevention.

The legislation includes $1.7 billion yearly for public health surveillance, biomedical research and training for health professions as well as $500 million a year for overdose reversal drugs such as Naloxone. 

Warren has been sounding the alarm on opioid deaths the past few years. She's written to CDC head Thomas Friedan asking that the agency test alternative painkillers as replacements for prescription opioids, and last summer chided President Trump for his "administration's lackluster response to the nation's opioid crisis."

Warren is looking at the opioid crisis through the lens of the AIDS epidemic. Like the Ryan White CARE Act, enacted over 25 years ago to combat HIV and AIDS, the bill from Warren and Cummings bill would put extra emphasis on targeting counties and cities most severely affected. This bill, however, asks for four times more money annually than the Ryan White CARE Act has ever used.

Characteristically, Warren is painting corporate greed as the villain in the opioid crisis. "Fueling addiction is big business," she wrote in a Medium post Wednesday. This proposal is pegged to the Corporate Executive Accountability Act that Warren sponsored in April. That bill, she wrote in The Washington Post, "expands criminal liability to any corporate executive who negligently oversees a giant company causing severe harm to U.S. families."

It's no coincidence that Warren refocused on this issue days before she heads to two of the states hardest hit by opioid deaths, West Virginia and Ohio. Warren's campaign estimates that her CARE Act would give those states nearly $200 million yearly to fight and prevent opioid addiction. 

She'll start a tour to promote the bill with a community conversation in Kermit, W.V., a town of under 400 where a single pharmacy brought in over nine million hydrocodone pills in two years.