GOFFSTOWN, N.H. — The opioid crisis and abortion were the two hot-button health issues in Friday night’s Democratic presidential debate.
“Incarceration should no longer be a response to drug possession,” said former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg. However, he added, in response to a question about whether he supports legalization, “that doesn’t mean it will be lawful to produce or distribute those harmful drugs.”
The opioid problem is also exacerbated by “companies acting irresponsibly with substances that are lawful,” Buttigieg said at the seven-candidate debate, which was held on the campus of St. Anselm College here. “We’ve got to make sure that there is accountability for those who suppressed evidence about the addictiveness of those substances — even while we’re also coming to recognize that these kinds of addictions are a medical issue, not a moral failure on the part of somebody battling that addiction.”
He also called for an increase in mental health providers. “Our own EMTs [emergency medical technicians] in my city had been so frustrated by the experience of reviving somebody, but then they have nowhere to go. Sometimes you get brought back with a dose of Narcan, but then your life depends on whether in the days that follow you make it until somebody can actually see you, because we have such a shortage of mental health and addiction providers in this country. We must act to change that.”
New York City entrepreneur Andrew Yang agreed that drug manufacturers should get some of the blame. “I’ve heard heartbreaking stories from families here in New Hampshire that have been destroyed, torn apart by the opioid epidemic, and you have to look at the companies that profited to the tune of tens of billions of dollars in profits of essentially blood money,” he said. “We will take back those profits and put them to work right here in New Hampshire so that if you are seeking treatment, you have resources to be able to pursue it.”
Yang also voiced support for safe injection sites. “The government allowed this opioid epidemic to spread throughout our communities, and we have to do everything in our power to actually make sure that if you are seeking treatment, you know you’re not going to be sent to jail — we have safe injection and safe consumption sites for you. If you have a family member who’s struggling, you can refer them and know that they’re not going to have criminal penalties as a result.”
Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) said that when she led “one of the most successful drug courts in the country in Hennepin County,” Minnesota, “we weren’t a business. We didn’t want to see repeat customers. And if you don’t want to see repeat customers, the only answer is treatment.”
She criticized Yang for not explaining how he would pay for increased drug treatment and offered her own proposal. “There’s going to be a major settlement coming through, a federal settlement against all these opioid manufacturers,” Klobuchar said. “We will get — a conservative estimate — $40 billion in from that settlement, and we can put a 2 cents-per-mg tax on opioids that brings in another $40 billion. Then you can close a hedge fund loophole that brings in $18 billion.”
The candidates also were asked their views on abortion and whether they would have a “litmus test” for potential Supreme Court judges to make sure they were pro-choice. Former Vice President Joe Biden said his litmus test would be whether a potential justice believes that the Constitution includes unenumerated rights. “The only reason women have the right to choose is because it’s determined that there’s unenumerated rights coming from the Ninth Amendment in the Constitution.”
If the justices did vote to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision legalizing abortion, “I will send to the United States Congress — and it will pass, I believe — a bill that legislates Roe v. Wade,” he added.
Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) agreed with Biden on the need for a law passed by Congress, noting that many states have passed laws restricting abortion. “If we are going to protect the people of the United States of America, and we are going to protect our rights to have dominion over our own bodies, then it’s going to mean we can’t simply rely on the courts. Three out of every four people in America believe right now that the rule of Roe v. Wade should be the law. That means we should be pushing for a congressional solution as well. It is time to have a national law to protect the right of a woman’s choice.”
Klobuchar also touted her pro-choice bona fides. “I would only appoint judges that would respect precedent, and one of those key precedents is Roe v. Wade,” she said. “In addition, you have got to put it into law.” Klobuchar noted that when President Trump was running, “he actually said that he wanted to put women in jail” for having abortions. “He then dialed it back and said, ‘No, I want to put doctors in jail.’ Is it a big surprise, then, we’re seeing states like Alabama start enacting laws that would criminalize doctors who perform abortions? It’s not.”
“That is why it’s going to be really important, when you look at the overwhelming public support for funding Planned Parenthood, for making sure women have access to contraception, to making sure that they have a right to choose, that we make this case strongly and loudly,” she added.