Yang and O'Rourke propose decriminalizing opioids, including heroin

At Tuesday’s Democratic presidential debate, candidates Andrew Yang and Beto O’Rourke endorsed decriminalizing opioids, including heroin, as a way to control the drug epidemic that has ravaged American communities.

Yang, a businessman with no prior political experience, said that doing so would help addicts “get well.”

"The least we can do is put the resources to work in our communities so our people have a fighting chance to get well,” Yang said, adding, “Part of helping people get the treatment they need is letting them know that they are not going to be referred to a prison cell. They’ll be referred to treatment and counseling.”

Yang also took aim at drug companies who have profited from the manufacture and sale of opioids, describing the problem as “capitalism run amok.”

“We need to decriminalize opiates for personal use,” Yang continued. “We have to let the country know this is not a personal failing, this is a systemic government failing. And then we need to open up safe consumption and injection sites around the country because they save lives.”

Andrew Yang and Beto O'Rourke during the fourth U.S. Democratic presidential candidates 2020 election debate at Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio U.S., October 15, 2019. (Photos: John Minchillo/AP, Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

O’Rourke, the former representative from Texas, said he agreed with Yang that opioids should be decriminalized, and said that the legalization and prescription of marijuana instead of opioids was also something that should be tried.

“Anyone with drug addiction today is not a problem for the criminal justice system, they are an opportunity for our public health care system,” O’Rourke said.

The bulk of the discussion on the opioid crisis, however, was focused on the drug companies who have been held liable for pushing medication on patients who soon became addicted to them.

Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., said she favored jailing executives at companies found to have fueled the crisis.

“They are nothing more than some high-level dope dealers,” Harris said, adding, “The eight biggest pharmaceutical companies and insurance companies last year profited $72 billion on the backs of people like families that we are talking about that have been overwhelmed by this crisis.”

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