President Barack Obama and hip hop artist Macklemore joined forces in the president’s weekly radio address to call on the U.S. Congress to fund more treatments to fight opioid abuse.
The Grammy-award winning artist shared his own experience dealing with substance abuse and pleaded to anyone going through the same to seek help.
“I’m here with President Obama because I take this personally. I have abused prescription drugs and battled addiction. If I hadn’t gotten the help I needed when I needed it, I might not be here today. And I want to help others facing the same challenges I did,” Macklemore said.
The joint effort made history. White House officials said the artist is the first non-administration official to be featured on the president’s weekly address.
President Obama talked about the dangers of substance abuse, saying that drug overdoses take more lives every year than traffic accidents. Deaths from opioids have tripled since 2000, the president said.
“A lot of time they are from legal drugs prescribed by a doctor. Addiction does not always start in some dark alley. It often starts in a medicine cabinet,” Obama said.
A new study released in April found that 44 percent of Americans know someone who has been addicted to prescription pain killers. Many Americans, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation report, are not aware of the legal requirement that insurance plans must follow the same rules for mental health benefits and substance abuse treatment as other medical services.
But this week Congress took steps to fight opioid abuse. Lawmakers passed a series of bills addressing the problem — a group of 18 measures designed to combat the nation’s epidemic of addiction to painkillers.
The vote was 400 to 5 and the new legislation takes steps to set up federal grants and a task force to examine pain management methods and the prescribing of pain medication.
Also in a rare bi-partisan effort, the Senate is considering a similar bill. Both Democrats and Republicans hope to give the president one comprehensive bill to sign into law.
The United States represents only five percent of the global population but Americans consume 80 percent of the world’s supply of pain medication. Opiate use in the United States has quadrupled since 1999, helped along by low cost and ease of access to opiate pain killers and a lack of understanding about their dangers.
For Macklemore, this fight gets even more personal. He lost a 21-year-old friend who overdosed on painkillers.
“Addiction is like any other disease. It doesn’t discriminate. It doesn’t care what color you are. Whether you are a guy or girl, rich or poor, whether you live in the inner city, a suburb, or rural America. This doesn’t just happen to other people’s kids or in some other neighborhood. It can happen to any of us,” Macklemore said.
To President Obama just talking about this crisis is not enough.
“We need to get treatment for more people who needed it. My administration is working with communities to reduce overdose deaths including with medication. We’re working with law enforcement to help people get into treatment instead of jail,” he added.
The president said under the Affordable Care Act health plans have to include options for treatment.
“The House passed several bills about opioids, which is great,” Obama said, but urged “unless they also make investments in more treatment, it won’t get Americans the help that they need.”
The White House released a statement calling on Congress to approve $1.1 billion in new funding for drug treatment listed in President Obama’s budget proposal for next year.
“Shame and stigma associated with the disease keeps too many people from seeking the help they need. Addiction isn’t a personal choice or a personal failing. And sometimes it takes more than a strong will to get better. It takes a strong community and accessible resources,” Macklemore said.