Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky) suggested that one way to fight the nation's opioid epidemic is to get more people working.
"We need to attach work to everything," the 2016 presidential candidate said during a campaign stop in Manchester, New Hampshire, Wednesday. "I don't think any able-bodied person in America should get a penny unless they work. No handouts, no gifts, no welfare. Everything should have work."
"People always come up to me and say, 'We got heroin problems and all these other problems.' You know what? If you work all day long, you don't have time to do heroin."
New Hampshire, which will be the first state to hold a primary election in the 2016 presidential race, has seen a surge in opioid use over the last decade. According to a state report released last year, there was a 90 percent increase in heroin users admitted to state treatment centers from 2004 to 2013 and a 500 percent increase in prescription opioid users admitted over the same period of time. The state reported more fatalities related to drug use than traffic accidents in 2014. Most of those deaths were linked to the use of heroin and fentanyl, a powerful painkiller that is often combined with heroin. Nationally, heroin-related overdoses quadrupled between 2002 and 2013.
Later in the town hall, Paul acknowledged that there are deeper issues behind heroin addiction than employment.
"We need to treat it more as a health problem and less as an incarceration problem," he said, according to CNN.
That comment lines up more closely with Paul's previous push to expand medication-assisted treatment to help those battling heroin and prescription drug addiction. Earlier this year, he co-sponsored the TREAT Act, which would expand access to medical treatment options like buprenorphine, which can help curb cravings and ease withdrawal symptoms. As The Huffington Post pointed out in an investigation earlier this year, the lack of access to such medication has rendered existing treatment options largely ineffective throughout the country.
Hillary Clinton, who is running for the Democratic nomination, announced a similar proposal earlier this week. Her plan would put $10 billion toward establishing state-federal partnerships to treat and prevent addiction as well as expand the availbility of medication-assisted treatment.
While politicians have linked drug use to unemployment, the numbers show that plenty of employed people use drugs as well.
The 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health found unemployed adults had a higher rate of drug use (18.2 percent) compared to those in full or part time jobs (9.1 and 13.7 percent, respectively). However, the same study found that nearly 70 percent of adult drug users were employed either part or full time.
And heroin addiction isn't just a problem in poorer communities. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heroin use has increased among most demographic groups over the last decade -- including among households making $50,000 or more and households with private insurance coverage.
"Most people who use heroin work just like most people who drink alcohol work. With that said there is evidence that some people misuse alcohol, heroin and other drugs when there is a lack of economic and other opportunities," said Drug Policy Action's director of national affairs, Bill Piper, in an statement. "No doubt unemployment, low wages, and general distress causes some people to self-medicate, but simply giving someone a job isn’t going to make them not want to use heroin."
He continued, "Rand Paul is right that drug use should be treated as a health issue instead of a criminal justice issue, but he is flat out wrong to say people who use drugs don’t work. Most people who use drugs, whether it’s heroin, alcohol, marijuana or something else, work."
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