The opioid crisis unequivocally threatens the general welfare of the United States of America. In 2016, the opioid crisis single handedly caused more American fatalities than the entire Vietnam War. Regardless of whether the Constitution is interpreted through an originalist lens or as a living document, both readings seem to support the notion that Congress is delegated the powers to “lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts, and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common defense and general Welfare of the United States.“ When viewed through the definition of welfare—“the health, happiness, and fortunes of a person or group,” it becomes abundantly clear that the opioid crisis is violating the general welfare of thousands of American citizens. When tens of thousands of Americans are dying annually from an opioid epidemic that is only worsening, Congress must adhere to the Constitution and provide for the general welfare of the American people.
Admittedly, there is no overt enumerated power that explicitly gives the federal government power to remedy a drug crisis, yet, even so, the Constitutional support remains particularly compelling for as to why the federal government has a Constitutional mandate to help remedy the Opioid crisis. The general welfare clause seems especially noteworthy when coupled with the Supremacy clause, which states “this Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land.” Put simply, the Opioid Crisis is threatening the literal, physical (and thereby general) welfare of Americans. Therefore, Congress (supported with the Supremacy Clause’s power over state laws) carries the burden of solving the Opioid Crisis. Moreover, given the alarming number of pharmaceuticals that are imported internationally or between states, the Commerce Clause further delegates the federal government power in fixing the Opioid Crisis. The Commerce Clause explicitly gives Congress the power “to regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes.” Barring the antiquated Indian Tribes phrase, the Opioid Crisis pertains to both interstate trade and trade between foreign nations. Pharmaceutical companies distribute opioids between states, and numerous amounts of synthetic opioids (which are quickly gaining popularity) come from countries such as China. Thus, the Commerce Clause also gives the federal government an obligation to remedy the ongoing opioid crisis.
Yet some, such as Real Clear Health’s Earl Baker, argue that the states are complicit in fixing the Opioid Crisis. Baker, in his article “The States Need to Step Up to Opioid Crisis,” calls for concurrent coordination between the state and federal government to remedy the Opioid epidemic. From Real Clear Health, an expert source for health-related issues, Baker explains how the states are not being vigilant enough in fighting the Opioid Crisis. He acknowledges that there must be coordination between the state and federal governments but seemingly suggests the states ought to orchestrate both the preventative and treatment efforts. In today’s world of intertwined, cooperative federalism, suggesting that the state government works alongside the federal one is far from an unreasonable or radical proposal. However, the real issue in Baker’s analysis lies in the fact that he largely places the responsibility of solving the Opioid crisis on the state governments and local communities. For instance, he unapologetically argues, “It’s time for the states to step up in the critical fight against opioids with more than just rhetoric.” In doing so, Baker misguidedly places the responsibility of a solution on the states. Sure, the states do in fact have a better idea of their communities’ specific needs. But the states cannot raise the funds necessary to solve their respective crises in a politically viable manner. The Federal Government must, at the very least, designate categorical grants to the states in order to ensure that states can afford to enact meaningful, reactive, and preventative reforms.
However, as previously mentioned, a reasonable reading of the Constitution implies that the Federal Government should be more involved in solving the Opioid crisis than just granting funds. Congress, to effectively fulfill their Constitutional duty of promoting general welfare, must put aside petty partisanship to legislate solving the Opioid epidemic with the interdisciplinary, multifaceted solutions it demands. They must consider the roles of pharmaceutical companies, doctors, foreign powers, and the black market in creating and exacerbating the Opioid Crisis. There simply is no quick and easy fix to such a widespread, devastating crisis.
As the Editorial Board of The New York Times say in “An Opioid Crisis Foretold,” legislators would be wise to treat the Opioid epidemic as a “complex, multidimensional problem.” The article uses historical events—ranging from China’s Opium Wars to the AIDS crisis—to evaluate how America should proceed in dealing with its newest drug epidemic. Comparing today’s Opioid Crisis with the fairly recent AIDS crisis, the Editorial Board recommends that Congress funds “prevention, treatment, support services, and research.” Further supporting the Constitutional interpretation that the federal government must play a hand in solving the Opioid Crisis, the article calls for “stronger leadership” from the federal government. Thus far, almost all of the funding designated to the Opioid Crisis has been spent on reactionary treatment services. Although adequate funding for treatment is incredibly important, the already worsening Opioid Crisis seems likely to only become more devastating if Congress does not attack its root causes.
Failing to respond to the deaths of thousands of Americans annually—a clear violation of the public’s general welfare—is an abdication of Congress’s Constitutionally-outlined duties. The federal government, working alongside state and local governments, must take charge in preventing the growth of the Opioid crisis, treating its victims, and funding research to best understand the causes and effects of this devastating epidemic.
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