Brooks to take aim at opioid crisis
A prevailing problem in Grant County is at the top of Rep. Susan Brooks’ list for 2018.
The opioid crisis claimed plenty of lives in the county in 2017. By the end of November, overdose deaths had climbed to 24, a number that continued to grow for the remainder of the year.
“We haven’t turned the corner yet in the state or the county on the number of people dying from addiction and overdoses,” Brooks said in a phone interview with the Chronicle-Tribune Friday.
It’s a complex problem with no easy solutions, the congresswoman said. An increase in prescriber education, which could help prevent people from getting addicted, is one place to start, Brooks said.
Stricter rules for the U.S. Postal System is another target Brooks says needs to be addressed. People commonly overdose on Fentanyl, a painkiller 50 times stronger than heroin. Typically prescribed for extreme pain in cancer patients, the opioid is now available in illicit forms on the street.
Brooks said fentanyl is shipped through the postal service due to less restricted rules. Tightening up the postal system’s protocol, which is less strict than UPS or Fedex, is another piece that may provide answers to the ongoing crisis, she said.
More treatment centers and tighter border control at the Mexican border are additional areas that need to be addressed as well, said the representative of Indiana’s Fifth District.
Also on Brooks’ agenda is addressing mental health, specifically for law enforcement officers. Brook, along with representatives from Florida, Georgia, New Jersey and Washington, have passed the Law Enforcement Mental Health and Wellness Act, which has bipartisan support. The act goes hand in hand with a bill of the same name introduced by senators Joe Donnelly and Todd Young.
The bill would require the Department of Justice, Department of Defense, and the VA to develop resources to help local law enforcement agencies tackle mental health problems faced by their officers. It’s part of the movement to “peel back the stigma” of mental health, Brooks said.
Though the Republican is looking forward to addressing these issues in 2018, Brooks took time to reflect on the GOP’s biggest win of last year – the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.
“We were very pleased we were able to get tax cuts across the finish line,” she said.
Even before the bill was signed into law, businesses such as AT&T, Boeing, Comcast, Wells Fargo and Southwest Airlines, committed to giving employees bonuses.
Republican politicians point to this as an early sign the bill will do what it’s intended to do.
“That’s exactly the kind of economic development we’re looking for,” Brooks said.
However, economists and analysts argue that in the long run tax winnings will go to shareholders, instead of employees.
Brooks said the bill will help raise wages and keep companies in the United States. Reducing the corporate tax rate is also included in the bill, which coupled with tax cuts, should promote economic growth, Republicans argue.
The Act doubles the standard deduction for joint filers and married couples. The first $24,000 of income will not be taxed, Brooks said, which means people will keep more of their money.
Repealing the Affordable Health Care Act’s mandate, which penalizes those without health insurance, was included in the tax plan. The repeal is heralded as major step towards the complete repeal of the Obamacare.
However, the elimination of the mandate could cause more problems within health care. A Reuters wire service article from November reported the Congressional Budget Office, a nonpartisan budget-scoring agency, estimated that repealing the mandate would increase the number of uninsured by 13 million but lower the deficit by $338 billion. The CBO also said eliminating the requirement would cause premiums to rise because healthier people would be less likely to purchase insurance. Those increases would then create a snowball effect and more people would be discouraged to purchase health insurance due to costs.
Brooks said rising premiums are already an issue she is hearing about from her constituents.
“What we see and continues to be a problem is people say health insurance is too costly,” she said.
Brooks said more competition is needed to drive down costs. If this can be done, healthy people who may be enticed to not purchase health insurance, may come back into the system, if health care costs become more affordable.
Another aspect of the ACA lawmakers are more than likely to repeal is the medical device tax. Brooks said this is likely to happen and has support on both sides of the aisle. The tax of 2.3 percent is placed on all medical equipment, which stymies creation and innovation, the congresswoman said.
Brooks said the tax mandate repeal and the potential repeal of the medical device tax are stepping stones for the complete repeal of the Obama-era legislation. There’s still plenty of work to do, however.
“It’s an extremely difficult task,” she said. “(But if we) keep chipping away at it, it might just implode on its own.”
Brooks said she is planning to be in Grant County sometime this year, but was not sure when. However, a staff member from her office is available at City Hall every Thursday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Citizens can stop by anytime and talk about issues of concern.