Kellyanne Conway, Bill Clinton Pledge Bipartisan Action On Opioids

It was a rare moment of unity for two people who seldom agree.

Throughout the 2016 election, it wouldn't have been a stretch to call Kellyanne Conway and former president Bill Clinton nemeses. But last week in Atlanta, Georgia, the two were fighting on the same side. During the National Rx Drug Abuse & Heroin Summit, the largest summit on the opioid and heroin epidemic in the country, Conway, a counselor to President Trump, and President Clinton, spoke just hours apart about the epidemic that killed more than 40,000 people in 2016. And each specifically addressed the need for their parties to drop the partisanship and come together. 

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"I can't think of a more nonpartisan issue looking for more bipartisan solutions than the opioid crisis and the drug demand and drug supply and heroin epidemic that is really roiling our nation," Conway said.

Clinton, who spoke at the end of the summit, shared her tone.

"The only silver lining in this whole miserable, heart-breaking mess is that every demographic in every region in both political parties are being crushed by it," Clinton said. "If there is one thing we should be able to do together without any partisan rancor, it should be to take this by the throat and squeeze it until it's gone."

The Daily Citizen, a local north Georgia news outlet, reported that "no barbs were exchanged" between the two sides, a seemingly rare occurrence after one of the most divisive elections in United States history. 

Conway spent much of her time on stage defending President Donald Trump's plan for combatting the opioid epidemic, which includes creating commercials to scare children away from drugs and potentially executing drug kingpins. Both ideas have been criticized harshly. 

As head of Trump's "opioids cabinet," Conway has been trying to build momentum on what Trump says is a top priority for his administration. Their plan includes reducing the number of opioid prescriptions, improving access to medication-based treatment and cracking down on the flow of heroin and fentanyl from places like China and Mexico, Buzzfeed News reported

But so far, the road has been a little rocky. Tom Price, the administration's first health and human services secretary, resigned amid a travel scandal. Rep. Tom Marino, who was nominated to lead the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), also stepped down following a CBS: 60 Minutes expose. Then, the ONDCP's 24-year-old deputy director stepped down last month after reports emerged about his lack of experience.

Still, there have been signs of progress. The omnibus bill passed by Congress in March added $3.3 billion of funding to fight the opioid epidemic for 2018. That goes on top of the $500 million Congress allocated in the 21st Century Cures Act. While some experts think significantly more money is needed, the funding is a sign that both sides of Congress want to see progress. It's far more than any money that has been allocated in the past.

With the money coming down from the federal government, Conway, Clinton and others are now trying to put their pedal down on increasing treatment options and access to overdose antidotes like naloxone. 

"Things are going to get worse before they get better, so we are committed for the long term," Conway said at the summit. "We convene meetings on this every day at the White House... People need to act."

Shutterstock / JStone

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