Elizabeth Warren comes face-to-face with the opioid epidemic in West Virginia and Ohio

First in West Virginia and then again, hours later, in Ohio, Sen. Elizabeth Warren posed the same question.Raise your hand, the Massachusetts Democrat...

Posted: May 12, 2019 9:01 AM

First in West Virginia and then again, hours later, in Ohio, Sen. Elizabeth Warren posed the same question.

Raise your hand, the Massachusetts Democrat said, if you "know someone who's been caught in the grips of addictions" or "who's been lost to addiction."

Twice Warren asked and twice the people seated around her in folding chairs lifted their arms, almost matter-of-factly, to say that, yes, they knew.

Warren's trip here followed the Wednesday rollout of her opioid crisis proposal, which would provide $100 billion for treatment, provider support and funding for research over a decade. On Friday in Kermit, West Virginia, the 2020 Democratic presidential hopeful said the plan would seek to go around state governments and deliver the resources to community leaders in the hardest hit towns and cities.

West Virginia and Ohio are the two deadliest states for drug overdoses, according to recent federal surveys, and Kermit is often cited as ground zero of the opioid epidemic. A congressional report revealed last year that a pharmaceutical company had shipped more than 3 million prescription pills over 10 months -- about 10,000 a day on average -- to a single pharmacy in the town of about 400 people.

More than 47,000 Americans died from opioid overdoses in 2017, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The plan from Warren and Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, called the CARE Act, would focus on the epicenters of the epidemic and provide support to state and nonprofit recovery efforts. They introduced a similar bill in 2018.

"Addiction is a medical problem. It needs a medical solution and I've got a plan for that," Warren said inside a firehouse in Kermit on Friday morning, outlining her proposal before turning her focus to the drug companies. "We need to hold those executives personally liable. I'm talking handcuffs and perp walks. Because until there's some personal responsibility -- so long as it's upside, they can just keep getting richer and richer and all the money is on one side and all the hurt is on the other."

About three hours north, in Chillicothe, Ohio, Warren was introduced by the Democratic mayor, Luke Feeney, who called his city "a bellwether for the state" heading into the 2020 elections. As Warren shook hands and took pictures after the discussion there, Feeney told CNN he wasn't surprised by the response to Warren's first question.

"If all the hands didn't go up, they probably could have," he said. "I'm glad that there's candidates talking about a plan. We are seeing maybe the epidemic slow down some, but the impact, the long-term impact that we're going to see, with children being raised by grandparents or great grandparents -- we're just not equipped for that and we need a plan and infrastructure to back that plan up."

The federal response, which has ticked up under the Trump administration, was still "too slow coming," Feeney said. Warren's proposal to bypass state governments and allow local elected officials, presumably with better handles on how and where to direct the funds, appealed to him.

"Voters are intelligent and I think they've become somewhat frustrated and desensitized somewhat -- that's an understatement -- with the gridlock," he said. "Conveying that there is hope, that there is some future (is important), because otherwise it's hopeless, right? And that's not the business that I want to be in."

But in a region that has suffered such devastating losses, it will be difficult to convince some voters -- especially Republicans already skeptical or outright disdainful of Democrats like Warren -- that this time around, even with the new promise of $100 billion and a detailed plan of action, will be different.

Steps outside Warren's event in Kermit, a group of men -- most of them President Donald Trump supporters -- stood quietly with their arms crossed. About a hundred yards down the road a more vocal band, their cars and trucks festooned in "Trump 2020" banners and flags, honked and chanted. Mingo County is in the heart of Trump Country. The President defeated Hillary Clinton there by nearly 70 percentage points in 2016.

Eric May, an Iraq War veteran who lives in town, was mostly silent as he watched Warren discuss her plan. The talk about "handcuffs and perp walks" for pharmaceutical executives was fine, May said, but he didn't believe it would ever happen.

"(Politicians) said it for years and nothing's changed," May told CNN. "They went on about Oxycontin. They took out Oxycontin, OK? They said we're taking Oxycontin off the market. First they tried to take it and fix it to where people couldn't snort it or shoot it. They fixed it where it would gel up if it got wet and came into contact with moisture. So then it was useless like that, and all they could do is take it by mouth. They said, well, Oxycontin's killing people, so let's do away with it. But then they replaced it with a pill that was 7 to 10 times stronger than Oxycontin. When they came out with Opana -- Oxymorphone is what it's actually called... This community is riddled with it."

His skepticism ran deep.

"This doesn't seem like that we're just here to talk about a problem with opioids," he said. "This is something to try to maybe get into a few people in the community and maybe pull a few votes."

Asked after the event about the reaction from just outside and broader concerns over whether her plan -- even among those who looked favorably on it -- would ever come to pass, Warren stuck to the details and made a bipartisan appeal.

"We start with the ultra-millionaire's tax, which is very popular among Democrats, independents and Republicans, and once you've got the money in hand, then the question of how to divide it to make the investments where they most need to be made -- I don't think it's hard to build a coalition to put that money in communities that are suffering from the opioid epidemic," Warren said. "Keep in mind, there are Republicans and Democrats who are dying from overdoses. There are red states and blue states that are just struggling with a problem that gets bigger and bigger and bigger."

Mariana Henry, who works at a downtown bar in Chillicothe and attended Warren's meeting there at the AMVETS Post 4 on Friday afternoon, shared the candidate's optimism -- but emphasized the scope of the task.

"I see people on drugs every day," she told CNN. "I see people come in (to the bar) on drugs. I walked by a gentleman last week, on drugs, walking with two small children in the park, in this park downtown. So you see it and you see it a lot around here."

Henry said she had hope that, with enough money behind it, Warren's plan could break through.

"Those are our neighbors. If we don't take care of them, they're going to be breaking into my house, they're going to be breaking into my car. It will affect me just as much as it affects everyone else," she said. "I don't want my kid going to school with half the population on drugs."

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

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Cases: 665285

Reported Deaths: 12697
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion910581653
Lake48637887
Allen36050641
Hamilton32231398
St. Joseph30243514
Elkhart25484420
Vanderburgh21315382
Tippecanoe20185205
Johnson16425361
Porter16053276
Hendricks15899301
Clark12032182
Madison11779321
Vigo11672231
Monroe10394164
Delaware9879179
LaPorte9821198
Howard9095199
Kosciusko8588111
Bartholomew7504147
Warrick7445153
Hancock7439134
Floyd7255172
Wayne6654192
Grant6453157
Boone611991
Morgan6118126
Dubois5933112
Dearborn550669
Cass5477100
Marshall5446105
Henry542695
Noble510978
Jackson465567
Shelby462591
Lawrence4193113
Gibson404985
Harrison402764
Clinton397053
Montgomery390584
DeKalb387178
Knox357885
Miami357863
Whitley350638
Huntington348377
Steuben339855
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Ripley327862
Adams325149
Jasper318443
White298052
Jefferson295974
Daviess285696
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Decatur271388
Greene262280
Posey261432
Wells258975
Scott251450
LaGrange242170
Clay241444
Randolph225877
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Washington213027
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Fountain202542
Starke189251
Owen183453
Fulton179637
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Carroll176919
Perry173836
Orange171351
Rush165422
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Franklin159735
Tipton149241
Parke140116
Pike128433
Blackford120627
Pulaski107544
Newton96732
Brown95240
Benton92413
Crawford92113
Martin80314
Warren75914
Switzerland7558
Union67510
Ohio54111
Unassigned0434

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 976230

Reported Deaths: 17501
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin1127971251
Cuyahoga966701881
Hamilton737981067
Montgomery47453923
Summit40562831
Butler35750531
Lucas35685720
Stark29548826
Warren22539275
Lorain22149424
Mahoning19556551
Lake18509332
Clermont18484205
Delaware16576121
Licking15063194
Fairfield14622188
Trumbull14397424
Greene13636221
Medina13484237
Clark12352256
Wood11633170
Portage11104172
Allen10815216
Richland10360188
Miami10055194
Muskingum8224117
Columbiana8165210
Pickaway8085111
Tuscarawas8065232
Marion8015127
Wayne7915199
Erie6948146
Ross6170132
Geauga6105142
Hancock6021121
Ashtabula5998154
Scioto599188
Lawrence527186
Union515641
Darke5046116
Belmont4990137
Huron4848108
Jefferson4831137
Sandusky4791112
Washington473696
Seneca4720111
Athens465849
Mercer459181
Auglaize456682
Shelby442579
Knox4053105
Putnam400393
Madison394755
Fulton382561
Ashland381983
Brown374352
Defiance373588
Crawford359598
Logan356973
Preble353887
Clinton342055
Highland328451
Ottawa325171
Williams303268
Jackson291246
Champaign290149
Guernsey288745
Perry270748
Fayette269843
Morrow261137
Henry247361
Hardin246859
Holmes244097
Coshocton240056
Van Wert230257
Gallia223538
Adams218139
Pike216728
Wyandot212050
Hocking194954
Carroll181743
Paulding160834
Meigs136031
Noble129233
Monroe117137
Morgan101620
Harrison100731
Vinton76613
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