As pundits and surrogates fall over themselves and each other to put their own spin on last night’s debate, they’ve taken to discussing everything from Donald Trump’s breathing to Hillary Clinton’s wardrobe. Broken up into several 15-minute segments, last night’s debate was a prime opportunity to hear where candidates stand definitively on combatting opioid addiction, an issue that is high in the running for the title of America’s most urgent public health crisis. Although the debate was held at Hofstra University in Long Island (the Northeast cradle of opioid abuse), not one word was uttered about this pervasive and deadly epidemic.
In an election cycle that has seen countless bizarre twists and turns, from the discussion of the legitimacy our president’s citizenship to unprecedented conversations about the candidates’ health, key issues continue to be overlooked, such as the leading cause of death among the totality of our population. It seems as though the worst fears of those impacted by opioid abuse, including addicts and their families has been realized: selective memory. Outside of a shocking viral image or the death of a prominent celebrity or artist, it’s almost as though opioid addiction has no place in the American conversation, even when a debate between two candidates looking to lead said conversation takes place in a region in which it is most prevalent.
Whether it’s because they can’t comprehend the sheer enormity of the problem or they’re simply at a loss regarding how to deal with its proliferation, lawmakers have been dragging their feet on this issue for years. Critical components of Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act continue to go without funding and face resistance from both sides of the political aisle. The reality is that it’s largely up to communities and private citizens to empower themselves to combat addiction in their corners of the world. This means reaching out to loved ones who are vulnerable, gaining a fundamental understanding of the behavioral pathology of addiction, and engaging with their community leaders to organize prevention-focused events.
Although we have admittedly made some legislative strides against addiction in America, the lack of conversation in last night’s debate is the latest glaring example of how much more work there is to be done. In a climate where moderators and candidates alike seem more apt to talk about anything else besides the leading killer of Americans, it’s safe to say that we can all do more.