Republican Senator Thinks Social Security Responsible For Heroin Addiction

By Zachary Siegel 11/11/15

Sen. Tom Cotton seems to think there's a correlation between our current heroin crisis and the popular 70-year-old social program.

Sen. Tom Cotton
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Social theorists do not know why the United States is seeing addiction, suicide, and drug overdose occurring in obscene numbers, but freshman Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) submits too many people relying on Social Security disability is the main driver.

During a speech to the conservative Heritage Foundation on Monday, Cotton put forth his theory, which hinges on two associations: 1) communities with high percentages of Social Security disability are seeing a population decline; 2) communities where there are few benefiting from Social Security have seen population increase.

“It’s hard to say what came first or caused the other: population decline or increased disability usage,” Cotton argues. Indeed, the causal arrows could go either way. “Or maybe,” he postured, “economic stagnation caused both. Regardless, there seems to be at least at the county and regional level something like a disability tipping point.”

Cotton went on to explain what he meant by a disability tipping point. “When a county hits a certain level of disability usage, disability becomes a norm,” he said. “It becomes an acceptable way of life and alternative source of income to a good paying full-time job as opposed to a last resort safety net program to deal with catastrophic injury and illness.”

Princeton economist Anne Case, who recently co-authored a shocking mortality report on the working class with her husband and Nobel laureate Angus Deaton, told The Fix, “It was once the case that with a high school degree a person could find a ‘good’ job, with benefits and job security. Many of those jobs are gone, and aren’t expected to return any time soon.”

Cotton does not address this fact, that communities who rely on Social Security just to get by, are lacking in the “good paying full-time jobs” of which he speaks.

While ignoring the dire social conditions these communities are experiencing, he argues the inevitable results from too much government assistance. “The population continues to fall and a downward spiral kicks in, driving once thriving communities into further decline.”

“Not only that,” he notes, “but once this spiral begins, communities could begin to suffer other social plagues as well, such as heroin or meth addiction and associated crime.”

Cotton has a plan that will surely cure the social plagues facing broken communities: introduce legislation that would force non-permanently disabled people who are not ready to return to work to reapply for disability benefits.

“These reforms won’t solve all the problems of Social Security disability,” he concluded, “but they will address one of the most urgent crises in the program, and the one, perhaps, most corrosive to affected communities.”

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Zachary Siegel is a freelance journalist specializing in science, health and drug policy. His reporting has also appeared in Slate, The Daily Beast, Salon, Huffington Post, among others. He writes often about addiction, sometimes drawing from his own experience. You can find out more about Zachary on Linkedin or follow him on Twitter.