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To solve opioid epidemic, governors say there need to be federal dollars behind pledges

The governors of Maryland and Oregon are making an urgent call for greater federal help to deal with the opioid epidemic in their hard-hit states. Gov. Larry Hogan, R-Md., and Gov. Kate Brown, D-Ore., sit down with William Brangham to discuss the problems in their states, what works and what they need to end the suffering.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Now- an urgent call for greater federal help to deal with the opioid epidemic.

    It comes from a pair of governors whose states have been hit-hard. The governors of Maryland and Oregon came to Capitol Hill recently to speak before a Senate committee. In Maryland, the synthetic drug fentanyl was the leading cause of overdose deaths last year. And, in Oregon, people 65 and older are overdosing and abusing opioids at a greater rate than any other state.

    William Brangham sat down with Maryland Governor Larry Hogan and Oregon Governor Kate Brown shortly after their testimony.

  • William Brangham:

    Governor Hogan, Governor Brown, thank you both very much for being here.

    What is it you think, generally speaking, the federal government doesn't understand about what are you facing?

  • Gov. Larry Hogan:

    I think maybe that this crisis is evolving so rapidly and that it is as deadly as it is, and that we really need more resources from the federal government. That's the main thing we are trying to convey.

    We're dealing now with fentanyl as the number one killer in Maryland. It is different across the country. But we had nearly 2,000 deaths last area, and 70 percent spike in fentanyl, which is something the federal government has to get involved in from an interdiction stance. It's coming from China and it's coming from Mexico.

  • William Brangham:

    Governor Brown, what did you come here to tell the federal government?

  • Gov. Kate Brown:

    I wanted to make sure that they knew that Oregon and many other states, most of my governors are really focused on treating this as a public health crisis, as opposed to a criminal justice issue, and that it is so key that we focus on education, prevention, recovery and treatment for folks that are suffering from substance abuse, particularly with opioids.

  • William Brangham:

    I mean, the president has declared this a public health emergency. There is $6 billion theoretically coming down the pipeline soon.

    What more do you want the federal government to do? Where do you want that money to go?

  • Gov. Kate Brown:

    There needs to be resources behind those words. He needs to put funding behind the action.

    And we need financial assistance. We need assistance purchasing drugs that prevent overdoses from being successful, naloxone. And we — it is very expensive. And we need all of our first-responders to have access to it.

  • William Brangham:

    This is the drug that reverses an overdose that can be given immediately and bring someone back…

  • Gov. Kate Brown:

    Back to life, yes.

  • William Brangham:

    … from what would have killed them. Can save their life.

  • Gov. Kate Brown:

    Yes.

  • William Brangham:

    Governor Hogan, you talked a lot about fentanyl. You mentioned it here. You mentioned it in your testimony today.

    Can you explain the impact that fentanyl is having here in Maryland?

  • Gov. Larry Hogan:

    Fentanyl is between 50 and 100 times more deadly and more potent than heroin is.

    And we already were seeing deaths all over the place from heroin. But this is — it's a real crisis. It's not just in our state, but it is spreading to many states across the country.

    And we had 2,000 people in Maryland die last year. And this was the number one cause.

  • William Brangham:

    So, obviously, a state can only do so much with regards to fentanyl. This is — that is an interstate and international trafficking situation.

  • Gov. Larry Hogan:

    Right.

  • William Brangham:

    So what do you want the federal government to with regards specifically to that?

  • Gov. Larry Hogan:

    Well, we can't do — the states can't do much about things coming in from China and across the border in Mexico.

    It started out almost all this was produced and sent in from China. And a lot of it is coming through the U.S. Postal Service, believe it or not. So, there are a number of pieces of legislation here to try to address that, provide additional technology to try to interdict and stop this from coming in.

    And I think that the federal government can really focus on that we can't do at the state level.

    And I agree with Governor Brown. Treatment is the real issue. And getting more — $6 billion sounds like a lot, but in our little state, we put half-a-billion dollars just into Maryland. And we still had…

  • William Brangham:

    Half-a-billion in Maryland alone?

  • Gov. Larry Hogan:

    So, it's not enough. And we need the flexibility, as Governor Brown said.

    We need the federal dollars, and we need to be able to utilize it as best we see fit out on the front lines.

  • William Brangham:

    Governor Brown, you mentioned today that you feel the federal government, specifically, focuses too much on punishment. What do you mean by that?

  • Gov. Kate Brown:

    Well, we saw what happened in the '90s as a result of the crack cocaine epidemic. We ended up locking hundreds of thousands of people, put them behind bars.

    Their lives were ruined, obviously. It needs to be treated. This crisis, this opiate crisis needs to be treated as a substance abuse problem, as a public health problem. And that means making sure that folks have access to treatment.

    If folks don't have access to underlying health care and to substance and alcohol treatment, we can't solve this problem.

  • Gov. Larry Hogan:

    Yes, I would agree with that.

    It's really a — we have been focusing on it from the four different areas. It's education and prevention and treatment and interdiction, because you can't ignore the crime part of the dealing of these drugs that are coming and killing people.

    But it is — most of our money has been put into treatment. And this is a mental health and health crisis. It's very connected with mental health. But it is a health crisis across America. It is the number one problem we're facing.

  • Gov. Kate Brown:

    This issue touches every single one of us, our families, our friends, our communities, our businesses in every single corner of the United States. Every state has been impacted.

    This is an opportunity for Congress to step up, Republican and Democrat, work together and tackle this crisis. And we need the help at the state level. I think Congress is committed to doing something. We will see what happens.

  • Gov. Larry Hogan:

    Yes, I couldn't agree with that more.

    Governor Brown and I are of different parties, different coasts, opposite ends of the country. We don't agree on everything, but this is one that I think nearly all the governors in America agree on. And I'm hopeful that maybe this will be one of the things that actually gets done here in Washington, because we need to. It's about saving lives.

  • William Brangham:

    You both have given very concrete examples of things you would like to see, health insurance, treatment, interdiction, et cetera.

    What role do you think that the simple shame and stigma around addiction, that it is very difficult for people, even though we know the science is crystal-clear on this, to simply say, I have a problem, my family member has a problem, my co-worker has a problem?

    How serious is that?

  • Gov. Larry Hogan:

    I think it's a very serious part of the problem and something that we're working hard to try to change, because this really is — it's a health crisis. It's a — addiction is not — you shouldn't be ashamed to come forward and get the treatment that you need.

  • Gov. Kate Brown:

    And I think that's one of the challenges if the federal government continues to pursue punitive approach, is that it makes it really difficult to erase the stigma of folks who are suffering with this illness.

    That is exactly what it is. It is an illness. And part of reducing the stigma, I think, is treating it like it is part of the public health issue that it is, as opposed to treating it like it's a criminal justice issue.

  • Gov. Larry Hogan:

    It's not just young people. Many of our addicted folks are older, because they are the ones that had more surgeries, more aches and pains, took more pain medications and got addicted. It is not just an urban problem. It is every economic, every age group, every socioeconomic group is affected by this.

  • Gov. Kate Brown:

    That is where I think it's so important for all of us to share our stories. We have all been touched by this horrible disease.

    What we can — what the difference is, is that we can all do something about it.

  • William Brangham:

    All right, Governor Hogan, Governor Brown, thank you both very much.

  • Gov. Kate Brown:

    Thank you.

  • Gov. Larry Hogan:

    Thank you.

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