Massachusetts lost 1,979 residents to fatal opioid overdoses last year, according to state estimates. Governor Charlie Baker is responding to that public health crisis with the seriousness it deserves. Will Representative Katherine Clark?
Clark seemed more concerned with playing politics Wednesday, when she released a statement criticizing a presidential opioid panel created by President Trump that Baker is set to join.
“I don’t think Massachusetts families will appreciate Governor Baker’s involvement if this turns out to be another of Trump’s charades,” she said.
What Massachusetts families touched by the opioid crisis really won’t appreciate is if the governor spurns any opportunity to steer federal drug policy. Lord knows, Trump wasn’t this editorial page’s choice in November — or Clark’s, or Baker’s — but he did win the election. The state has to make the best of it.
The commission, to be chaired by Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey, is supposed to identify best practices and recommend any needed changes to federal law to address the opioid epidemic. No commission starts off with a guarantee of success, but it’s sure worth trying: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 91 Americans die every day from opioids. Deaths are up 200 percent since 2000.
And Trump certainly needs the help, since his initial steps as president have almost all been disappointing. In particular, the president’s failed effort to scale back the Affordable Care Act would have deprived millions of Americans of health coverage, including addiction treatment. Baker has shepherded opioid legislation in Massachusetts and chairs the National Governors Association’s health and human services committee.
There’s always a chance that the commission will end up as the charade that Clark fears. But that chance would grow into a virtual certainty if governors like Baker don’t participate.
Clark’s criticism of Baker reflects one strain of thought among Democrats — that the Trump administration is so dangerous that it must be battled on every front, in every way. Clark’s rejection of the commission echoed, in that sense, her decision to boycott Trump’s inauguration, which some Massachusetts Democrats joined (others, like Representative Seth Moulton, pointedly declined to endorse Clark’s boycott).
For the last eight years, Republicans battled the Obama administration even when it meant hurting themselves. That’s not a model to emulate, especially not when it comes to life-and-death matters like opioids. Baker, and Clark, shouldn’t pass up any opportunities to be heard by the new administration.