Lawmakers Wear Purple Ribbons to State of the Union to Raise Awareness About Opioid Epidemic

(From left) New Hampshire teacher McKenzie, Senator Maggie Hassan, D-NH, and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, D-RI, were among the those wearing purple ribbons to raise awareness about the U.S. growing opioid crisis at President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address.
(From left) New Hampshire teacher McKenzie Harrington-Bacote, Senator Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., were among those wearing purple ribbons to raise awareness about the growing opioid crisis at President Trump’s State of the Union address. Twitter

About a dozen lawmakers wore purple ribbons at President Trump’s State of the Union address Tuesday to raise awareness about the country’s growing opioid crisis.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat, led the effort to highlight the epidemic, which has hit her state of New Hampshire particularly hard.

“This is an important opportunity to send a message that more needs to be done to address this crisis,” Shaheen wrote on Facebook ahead of the address, urging her fellow members of Congress to don the purple ribbons distributed by her office.

Some lawmakers took to social media ahead of the speech to express their enthusiasm for the cause, including Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, a Democrat from Rhode Island, who also took a shot at the president.

"It's disappointing that @POTUS declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency, but then did virtually nothing. #AYearofTrump," he wrote.

Other Democratic senators including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, Sen. Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire and Sen. Tammy Duckworth, of Illinois, wore ribbons as the president discussed the epidemic.

“We must get much tougher on drug dealers and pushers if we are going to succeed in stopping this scourge,” Trump said Tuesday night. “My administration is committed to fighting the drug epidemic and helping get treatment for those in need. The struggle will be long and difficult — but, as Americans always do, we will prevail.”

Rep. Joe Kennedy III of Massachusetts addressed the opioid epidemic in his Democratic response to the State of the Union.

“As if the parent who lies awake terrified that their transgender daughter or son will be beaten and bullied at school is any more or less legitimate than the parent whose heart is shattered by a daughter in the grips of opioid addiction,” Kennedy said. “We choose both.”

In 2016, the crisis hit an all-time high, as at least two-thirds of the 64,000 drug overdose deaths in the U.S. were linked to opioids.

The country’s life expectancy fell for the second year in a row, largely in part of the surge in opioid-related deaths. Life expectancy last fell two years in a row in the early 1960s.

Preliminary figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show 2017 may have been even worse, as nearly 67,000 drug overdose deaths occurred in a 12-month period ending in June 2017. Those numbers were up from more than 57,000 in the 12-month period through June 2016, the CDC noted.

Some experts say successfully addressing the crisis will require the use of medications for opioid addiction that will cost billions.

Senate Democrats, including Shaheen and Hassan of New Hampshire, have pushed for extra funding to deal with the epidemic, saying it is integral to be included in domestic spending.

“Make no mistake, this is a national public health emergency, and we still don’t see a robust federal response,” Shaheen said earlier this month as her party pushed for an extra $25 billion over two years to combat the opioid epidemic. “The current federal budget negotiations give us an opportunity to right this wrong.”

In late October, Trump declared the opioid epidemic a national public health emergency, but at the time did not allocate significant additional funding to the issue, nor did he request funding from Congress.

On Jan. 24, Eric Hargan, the acting secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, renewed the department’s “determination that a public health emergency exists nationwide as a result of the consequences of the opioid crisis.”

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