Yang, Beto Discuss Unusual Solutions to The Opioid Epidemic

By Kelly Burch 10/18/19

The presidential candidates made the case for marijuana legalization and opioid decriminalization during a recent debate.

Andrew Yang

Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke spoke about marijuana as a replacement for opioid pain pills during the Democratic primary debate on Tuesday (Oct. 15), while fellow candidate Andrew Yang expressed his support for decriminalizing opioids and opening safe injection sites. 

O’Rourke shared a story about a veteran he had met who was addicted to heroin. He suggested that if the man had access to marijuana, he wouldn’t have become hooked on opioids, according to Marijuana Moment

Marijuana Legalization

“Now imagine that veteran, instead of being prescribed an opioid, had been prescribed marijuana, because we made that legal in America [and] ensured the VA could prescribe it, expunge the arrest records for those who’d been arrested for possession and made sure that he was not prescribed something to which he would become addicted,” O’Rourke said. 

Asked directly whether marijuana is part of the answer the the opioid crisis, O’Rourke answered, “Yes it is.”

As O’Rourke was speaking, Yang said, “Yes, preach Beto.”

Decriminalizing Opioids

During the debate, Yang expressed his support not only for legalizing marijuana, but for decriminalizing opioids, including heroin. 

He said, “We need to decriminalize opioids for personal use. We need to let this country know this is not a personal failing, this was a systemic government failing. Then we need to open up safe consumption and safe injection sites around the country because they save lives.” 

Yang continued, “We have to recognize [addiction] is a disease of capitalism run amok.”

He pointed out, “There was a point where there were more opioid prescriptions in the state of Ohio than human beings in the state of Ohio, and for some reason the federal government thought that was appropriate.”

Public Health Issue

Yang said that because the government was complicit in the over-sale of opioids, it needed to support people who are now addicted to opioids. 

“If the government turned a blind eye to this company, spreading a plague among its people, then the least we can do is put a resource into work in our communities so that people have a fighting chance to get well, even though this is not a money problem,” he said. “We all know this is a human problem. Part of helping people get the treatment that they need is to let them know that they’re not going to be referred to a prison cell, they will be referred to treatment and counseling.”

Other more mainstream candidates including Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have supported harm reduction policies as well. 

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.