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Dear President Obama - Put an End to the Opioid Epidemic

6,026
Supporters

Dear President Obama,

We are writing to express our strong disappointment with your neglect of the nation’s opioid addiction epidemic. Our criticism is not motivated by partisan politics, as we are Democrats, Republicans, Liberals and Conservatives. We also do not blame you for this problem because we know it began in the 1990s, before you were President. However, on your watch this public health crisis has grown much more severe. Between your first year in office in 2008 and 2013 more than 124,000 Americans died from prescription opioid and heroin overdoses yet you have never once spoken publicly about this tragedy.

This is not the first time a president ignored a public health crisis. For example, Ronald Reagan refused to acknowledge the AIDS epidemic before 20,000 Americans had died from the disease. Reagan’s refusal to speak about AIDS was due in large part to the stigma against its victims. We are concerned that stigma may also explain why you have failed to speak about the opioid addiction epidemic.

If a health condition other than addiction were killing so many Americans, we have no doubt that you would speak about the problem, identify resources to address it, and ensure a coordinated government response. Indeed, after Ebola caused 3000 deaths in West Africa you addressed world leaders about the problem, identified funding, and ensured that U.S. health agencies would lead a successful international effort.

By contrast, you have remained completely silent about the U.S. opioid epidemic despite increasing rates of opioid addiction, a mounting death toll, and a devastating impact on families across the country. Until this year, your administration had never even sought funding to help local and state governments address the crisis. And the funding your administration now proposes is very little, very late—with only a small fraction earmarked for addiction treatment.

Perhaps most disturbing has been your failure to ensure that our federal agencies work together in a coordinated fashion to address this problem. Instead, they work at odds with each other and issue contradictory public statements. For example, the CDC warns us that the crisis is fueled by opioid overprescribing and appropriately attempts to discourage aggressive opioid use for conditions other than end-of-life care. Yet the FDA continues to approve dangerous new opioids, even over the objection of its own scientific advisors, and permits pharmaceutical companies to promote these drugs for conditions where opioid risks outweigh benefits, now even allowing OxyContin to be promoted for use in children.

We will not politely and patiently remain quiet while you neglect the problem and allow FDA to continue pouring fuel on a fire. On August 31st, 2015 (International Overdose Awareness Day) hundreds of us will demonstrate our frustration in front of federal buildings across the country and on October 3, 2015 thousands of us will march from the Lincoln Memorial to the White House at the third Fed Up! Rally. We will continue demonstrating, marching and demanding action for as long as it takes until you finally begin speaking about the epidemic and ensuring that your administration does everything in its power to help bring it to an end.

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