KERMIT, W.Va. — Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren pitched her plan for addressing the opioid crisis during a stop Friday in Kermit while also going after those who fueled the nationwide epidemic.
The stop in the Mingo County town was the first visit of the weekend for the Massachusetts senator, who will be in Ohio on Friday and Saturday.
“There comes a time when the fight comes to your door. And for me that time is now,” she said. “I believe in an America that works not only for those at the top but for everyone else, and that’s why I’m here in Kermit.”
Warren’s hour-long appearance before 150 people at the Kermit Fire and Rescue Station was in light of her proposal related to the opioid crisis; the senator and Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings on Wednesday announced their reintroduction of the CARE Act, which would set aside $100 billion for prevention and addiction treatment services over 10 years. If the legislation became law, West Virginia would receive around $50 million on an annual basis, with the state’s hardest hit communities eligible for $24.6 million.
West Virginia leads the nation in drug overdose deaths with a rate of 57.8 deaths per 100,000 people. More than 70,000 Americans died in 2017 from drug overdose deaths, and the national life expectancy has dropped for three straight years with fatal overdoses being a contributing factor. Kermit, a town with a population of fewer than 400 people, gained nationwide attention following reports that millions of pain pills were shipped to the community.
“Right here in Mingo County, people are on the frontlines of this opioid epidemic,” Warren told reporters after her remarks. “This is a way to draw attention to the urgency of the moment and the fact that I’ve got a plan. We can actually change this for people right here on the ground in Kermit, West Virginia.”
Dr. J.W. Endicott asked Warren how the federal government can improve local access to treatment.
“It’s not just opioids; it’s mental health. It’s almost impossible to get somebody mental health help quickly,” he said.
Warren said communities should handle treatment and other services differently.
“The point of doing this is to say it’s not going to be the lack of money and lack of care that stops you. The federal government will simply be your partner,” she said of the CARE Act.
“I don’t want to be the one to tell you the program. You know it better than I know it. Help us be the partner you need so that you on the frontlines can save our brothers and sisters,” Warren added.
Warren said “greed” fueled the opioid crisis, and proposed prosecuting corporate executives who allow practices that would qualify for criminal negligence.
“So long as it’s all upside, they can just keep getting richer and richer, and all of the money’s on one side and the hurting’s on the other, nothing is going to change,” she said. “We need a country that works for the people, not just those who have money and connections.”
Another proposal the senator mentioned was her “ultra-millionaire tax;” higher-income households would pay a 2% tax on every dollar more than $50 million in net income and a 3% tax on every dollar more than $1 billion. The Warren campaign estimates the new tax would result in more than $2.7 trillion in revenue over a decade.
“I feel like the families that made big money off of this ought to be the ones who ought to have to pitch in something here,” she said.
Warren called out the Sackler family — who owns Oxycontin-maker Purdue Pharma — as one family who would be affected by the tax.
“My view is they should pay for what they caused,” the senator argued.
The tax plan would cover other proposals of the Warren campaign, including universal child care and canceling student loan debts for most Americans.
Endicott’s house is 50 feet from the Kermit Fire and Rescue Station. He said the opioid crisis, coupled with the lack of economic development, has ravaged southern West Virginia.
“One of my best friends lived right there,” he told reporters after the event, pointing to a home in front of the fire station. “He was my roommate in college. He got inadvertently addicted to drugs and had some things happen in his life and committed suicide.
“She’s actually introducing her bill right in the epicenter of the opioid crisis. It’s a big deal for us, but also a big deal nationally,” he added.
Endicott, who identified as a Democrat, said he did not vote for President Donald Trump in the 2016 election and will not support him in the next election.
“I like what she said today,” Endicott said of Warren. “I think it’s very positive for our area, especially with the opioid crisis. I’ll keep an open mind and see who can match that. There’s a lot of people running, but it’s America and democracy.”
Katie Hopkins and three friends drove from Huntington to see Warren, whom they are supporting.
“We are at an important crossroads with our country in determining the direction it needs to go in. To me, Elizabeth Warren not only has this very clear message as to what the issues are this country is facing, but also the policy, procedure and strategy lined up to carry those things through,” said Hopkins, a history professor at Mountwest Community and Technical College.
“I like the other candidates, but I’m interested in seeing if they are going to step up their game, work ethic and preparation.”
Nathaniel Vannatter, of Logan, wanted to hear Warren’s proposals. He said he is more politically engaged — serving as a Logan County captain for Democrat Stephen Smith’s gubernatorial campaign — because of the issues facing the state.
“West Virginia is a state of sacrifice, honestly, because everybody forgets about us,” he said. “No one outside cares because coal is a dying industry. Why would other states invest in that?”
While Warren was met with a warm reception inside the Kermit Fire and Rescue Station, others protested her appearance; the West Virginia Republican Party held a counter-protest 300 feet from the event. The group of 20 people held signs endorsing President Donald Trump, and passing motorists honked in support.
Warren was not deterred by the honking or nearby passing train; she said while her platform is ambitious, beating Trump is possible through grassroots campaigning.
“What did they say to the early union organizers, people who went in and fought and died? What did they say?” she asked the crowd.
“We ain’t going to quit!” one person shouted.
“That’s right!” she exclaimed.
Warren left Kermit for events in Chillicothe, Ohio, and Columbus. Her campaign will be in Cincinnati on Saturday. Ohio is second in the nation in drug overdose deaths with 46.3 deaths per 100,000 people.