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Last week, we spoke to longtime Trump supporter Newt Gingrich, former speaker of the House
of Representatives and an advisor, along with Patrick Kennedy and Van Jones, to Advocates for Opioid Recovery (AOR).
He talked about the importance of the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act (MHPAEA), saying that “everything that relates to our brain” — including mental illness and substance use disorders — should be covered just as the rest of the body is covered. “Since the late 1980s, I’ve been in favor of mental health parity,” he said.
Asked why mental health parity came many years before substance use disorder parity, Gingrich said it was hard enough to get mental health parity passed. “There was not a great deal of pressure to extend it to addiction services, I think because mental health in and of itself was such an enormous lift,” he said. And he cited former Sen. Pete Domenici (R-New Mexico) as a leader in the support for mental health parity. “He was driven by the fact that he had a daughter with schizophrenia,” recalled Gingrich. Senator Domenici was also a leader in getting the MHPAEA through Congress. “I had always been his ally in this, and in that early period, most groups were just ecstatic about getting mental health parity.” Gingrich himself had a mother with bipolar disorder.
Like mental illness, addiction touches almost everyone in terms of family or friends, but it is less discussed because of stigma.
“The first real breakpoint — and this is where Patrick Kennedy is doing such a great job — is whether you believe this is a medical problem or a behavioral problem,” Gingrich said of addiction. “If you believe it’s a medical problem, then you maximize the treatment that helps people survive,” he said. “You don’t have to be a doctor to be in favor of Americans having access to the highest-value solution that gives them a chance to live. And with opioids, we’re in a much more dangerous world than we were before. We’re having more people start to recover, and then relapse, and then they die.”
Gingrich is in favor of medication- assisted treatment, and also in favor of recovery supports, “because you have to treat the complete human being,” he said.
However, Gingrich does not believe in coerced treatment. People who are rescued from overdoses by naloxone should be offered treatment, he said. “I think there should be a maximum effort to get them into treatment, but as Patrick [Kennedy] says, if you coerce them into treatment, they may just drop out as a result.”
Along the same lines, Gingrich believes the criminal justice system is the wrong place for people with addiction. “Republicans have been leaders in criminal justice reform and in the recognition that this is a medical issue, not an issue that involves coercion and prison,” he said. “More than half of the people in prison are mental health patients — it’s not right to put them in that kind of a setting.”