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Local addiction, recovery, and harm reduction organizations host RI-CD1 candidate forum
"We don't have enough beds. It's the most frustrating thing I've ever seen in my life, trying to help an addict get in and they can't..."
Rhode Island organizations focused on addiction, recovery, and harm reduction held a Candidate Forum for the Congressional District 1 election on Tuesday evening1. The non-partisan event highlighted candidates’ priorities and policies for issues related to substance use and substance use disorders and offered an opportunity for impacted community members to connect with their potential next Congress member. The event was held at the Anchor Recovery Community Center on Reservoir Avenue in Providence.
“Despite the hard work of community organizations and providers, overdoses continue to claim the lives of too many of our loved ones," said Lisa Peterson, President of the Rhode Island Association for Addiction Professionals (RIAAP), who emceed the event. "Anyone who is going to represent Rhode Island at the national level needs to recognize the real-world implications of failed policy and hear from the people who are living with the results.” Three candidates, Providence City Councilmember John Goncalves, State Senator Ana Quezada, and Lieutenant Governor Sabina Matos were present for the full forum. Candidate Gabe Amo left early for another commitment and State Senator Sandra Cano and candidate Don Carlson arrived around 45 minutes late. No other candidates participated.
See my other Congressional District One race interviews here:
See my other articles on the Congressional District One race interviews here:
The forum has been transcribed below, edited for clarity, but not brevity.
Sandy Valentine: I am the executive director of the Rhode Island Community for Addiction Recovery Efforts (RICARES) and we are excited to see so many folks in the room tonight. There are quite a few addiction and recovery professionals gathered here this evening. What is different about working in recovery is that we work together, we work across organizations, and we work across roles. What we want to hear from our candidates tonight is, "How we can work together?"
I am a person in long-term recovery. That means that I became substance free in September 1991 when I was 26 years old. When I was 26, I had a moment of readiness and in that moment I was ready to either take my life or start a pathway of recovery. When I was making that decision, I had a person in my life that I could reach out to who was ready to receive my call, and she said, "What do you need to do?" because my statement to her was, "I'm in jeopardy."
I didn't elaborate, but she knew me and she said, "You need to go to a meeting." Fortunately, there was a meeting in 20 minutes, a quarter mile from where I was living, and when I got to that room, the folks in that room were ready for me; ready to help me and get my pathway of recovery started. Mine is a pretty simple story. I was young and not a lot had happened. Some people would refer to me as a high-bottom drunk, which has nothing to do with my posterior, but means that I hadn't lost a lot of things yet. For most of the folks that we're working with daily, it's not as simple. They're navigating system challenges that are beyond the ability of one simple phone call.
Many of us were in DC recently and got to hear firsthand from Rahul Gupta. He challenged us to become a recovery-ready nation. To become a recovery-ready nation, we need to become a recovery-ready Rhode Island. When we think about what that readiness means. It means that we need leaders. We need candidates like the ones who have come to hear from us tonight. We need people across all types of roles to be ready when the individual places the call, to be ready as a system so people don't get kicked out of the services.
To share a recent example, we had an individual who was on his pathway of recovery, living in a recovery house. He returned to use, got kicked out of his recovery house, was told he had to detox for three days, and couldn't go to detox because he hadn't used substances for five days, so he ended up homeless, with choices to make about returning to use. These are the situations impacted by policy and impacted by our political leaders. We're grateful you came here to share your questions, to look into our candidates, and see who might help us become recovery ready.
Lisa Peterson: We're going to start with just some high-level policy questions. We're interested in what you would do in this role and how you would support our communities in these roles if you are elected to represent the great state of Rhode Island.
In 2022, we lost 434 Rhode Islanders to the drug poisoning crisis, just one life less than a tragically record-setting 2021. There is ample research supporting a wide range of harm reduction interventions, yet some of these life-saving tools are either barred from federal funding or barred from operating in the United States. What policies would you propose or support to reduce preventable overdose deaths?
Gabe Amo: We need to embrace what research suggests works in terms of harm reduction. People with substance use disorders are not going to be served by one size fits all strategies. Especially at the federal level a mix of jurisdictional responses where in New York City you don't have a US Attorney who is vigorously pursuing Mayor Adams and his administration and you have other jurisdictions that may be pursuing strategies that are being called into question by their US Attorneys.
That inconsistency is a challenge to the community long term. What we need at the federal level is a consistent strategy deploying the research capacities that we have as well as the great leadership we have at agencies like SAMHSA. We have Tom Coderre, a Rhode Islander who has been in long-term recovery, serving in a leadership capacity there. I want to defer to experts rather than have politics drive the narrative.
Additionally, we've seen a large amount of new federal resources through Medicaid expansion and the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act. We need greater collaboration with the community to make sure that those resources are deployed effectively.
John Goncalves: I'm a two-term city councilman representing the East Side and downtown Providence. Downtown is one of the largest overdose hotspots in the state so this issue is personal to me. I see it on the ground every single day and there's a lot that we need to do, particularly at the state level, but also at the federal level, to address and mitigate some of the challenges that we're experiencing.
One of the things that I hear from folks is about Medicare reimbursement rates. That's a huge issue that we need to address. I want to thank the advocates, many of them who are in this room, Haley McKee, Annajane Yolken, Weber Renew, and East Bay Recovery Center - so many people are passionate about these issues and who are addressing these issues every single day.
I was looking at the stats recently. There were over 40 overdoses this week and over 20 in the City of Providence. We need real solutions to address this. One of the overarching causes is the housing and housing affordability issue that we're experiencing. Many people are down and out and they don't have the resources. It is incumbent on us to humanize the stories, experiences, and challenges that people are going through and make sure that we're providing every resource at our disposal to take care of the people in our communities.
It's why I've pushed for our police officers and our public responders to carry naloxone so that they're addressing these issues on the ground. At the federal level, we have to look at the Model Syringe Services Program Act, which is a broad way to address these issues daily all across this country. But overall, we need to humanize the experiences of people who are going through mental health challenges, people who are utilizing opioids, or people who are struggling with substance abuse so that we can make sure that they are getting everything that they deserve. They truly deserve it.
Sabina Matos: At the local level and the Providence City Council I had the opportunity to work with many of you that have been doing the hard work, like Project Weber, since the beginning. I was able to assist, first in the city council and now as lieutenant governor.
I go back to the housing issue. Every problem we have, unfortunately, can be traced back to housing. You described individuals in recovery, but the policies we have in place don't allow them to find a place to recover. This is something we have to address and we have to address it at the federal level.
[When I was] trying to help families find a home, policies, and regulations that define homelessness stopped us from being able to access resources available at the local level to assist families. When you have a policy that tells you that if someone is staying in a hotel for a night or a few days they're not a priority because they have a place to sleep at night, that is wrong. That has to be changed and unless we change those policies, we're going to continue to see this happening over and over again.
I was reading an article in the paper over the weekend about some individuals that are homeless. Most of them have been dealing with substance use and have been struggling to find a home because of that. We have to make sure that we address the housing situation and provide relief for those that are facing homelessness before they are in crisis.
Ana Quezada: Housing is one issue, but we have to make sure people have insurance, make sure mental health is taken care of, and make sure people have a bed when they have a crisis. There are many ways we can do this at the local level. I'm the only one who talks about this issue on my campaign website. None of the people running for this seat are talking about substance use. From day one I've been talking about this because it's a crisis. More people die of overdose than gun violence, car accidents, and many other things put together. Nobody in this election is talking about this issue, but I've been a champion at the state level work working on these issues from day one.
I've passed many pieces of legislation. I passed legislation to make sure that when people leave jail we have housing for them and a program for them if they are using or have mental health issues. The 48 hours after somebody gets out of jail is important because that's when they can go back in. We put together resources for them, to provide the support that they need in the community.
Housing is an issue, but we cannot just put somebody in housing right away. We have to provide the resources they need before they can be ready to be in housing. We need to make sure they get help for their mental health issues. I'm a social worker. I've been working on this issue for many years. It's something I've been working on at the state level and something I will do when I get to Washington. I will make sure that our community is getting the resources they need to make more beds available when somebody is having a crisis. I will make sure people have Medicare for All, to provide the services they need. I believe in prevention, educating parents, and educating children at a very young age.
Lisa Peterson: Rhode Island is experiencing a critical shortage in the behavioral healthcare workforce at the same time that community needs are surging. Starting rates in many organizations rank below retail and fast-food establishments, and are insufficient to support workers’ basic needs, much less their student loans. This crisis is driven in part by stagnant reimbursement rates and a lack of healthcare parity enforcement. How can we address this urgent need at the national level so our state can rebuild its crumbling workforce infrastructure?
Ana Quezada: There are many ways to do that. I was the one who raised the minimum wage in Rhode Island to $15 an hour and that's something I would work to do at the federal level because if people get paid the right way, you'll find workers. When we raised the minimum wage in Rhode Island, many people criticized me because we did it during the pandemic. They asked, "Why did you raise the minimum wage after we went through the pandemic?" Now they realize that we needed to do that because people weren't finding workers. People didn't want to go back to work after the pandemic because they weren't getting paid enough.
Since I've been in the Senate, one of my priorities has been to make sure we fight for staffing, make sure nursing assistants are paid the right way, and make sure people get paid. We raised the minimum wage in 2021 and every year everybody gets a dollar more. We need to do to make sure workers get paid a living wage so they can pay for housing. Housing is so expensive today. We need to work together. I will work in Washington to make sure that workers get the right pay and benefits.
Sabina Matos: We need to increase the healthcare worker reimbursement rate. I have been vocal. I sent letters of support for the legislation introduced by Senator Louis DiPalma and Representative Julie Casimiro. Last week I went to a graduation for a class of Certified Nursing Assistants [CNAs] with an emphasis on mental health. We need to provide support and resources for more programs like that to help us meet the demand and challenges we have. We have to make sure that we're paying a salary that is compatible with the skills they provide. When you have fast food restaurants paying more than what workers make as CNAs, you cannot blame someone for trying to better their income. We have to make sure that we provide better wages for those working in the field.
John Goncalves: I want to start, and this is no affront to the other candidates, but the fact that we are the only four candidates here is a slap in the face to this community. This should be a priority for every candidate out there and the fact that they are not here, I find that problematic. We had several things on our schedule today and we made it a priority to get here. There's a library in my community that we helped fund. It's a library that helps many people in our community, but we decided that we were not going to be there so we could be there. This is a very important conversation. It's a shame on the rest of the candidates who should have been here to be a part of this discussion and the fact that they're not here - I want to affirm and thank the people who did show up. We really should be having this conversation.
To the points that were made, we need to do everything in our power to make sure that we are increasing reimbursement rates, but also getting people into the field and excited about these fields so that they can participate, particularly our young people because what we're seeing in this industry is so much turnover. Some people have been in the field for quite some time, but we need a workforce to facilitate and address the challenges we're experiencing. I'll pass it off to my colleague here so he can elaborate, but again, I want to affirm everyone who's here and it's a shame that more candidates can't be here today.
Gabe Amo: I agree with the previous comments on reimbursement rates. It's a challenge. There's no need for me to elaborate further, but to the extent that we can, at the federal level, have broader funding that pushes down through the system, that will make a critical difference.
The next bit I would speak to is the mental health parity work that is the unfinished business of the Affordable Care Act, way back in the Obama administration. You see, just recently, in fact just last week, one of the bigger champions for mental health parity, former Congressman Patrick Kennedy, was present as the Biden-Harris administration moved forward on finalizing a rule to ensure that we achieve mental health parity.
The next bit I'd speak to is the workforce challenge. This is something we see in a lot of critical fields in our communities. We see it in our teaching workforce, but it extends to our healthcare workforce and you see the concentration of people able to receive services being limited to those who have the means for private practice. We need to make sure to continue to build a pipeline. We need to make Rhode Island attractive for people who have options to work in this space, to be here. It ties to the points made earlier on housing that the Lieutenant Governor and the Senator made. I think it all fits together as part of the system, but ultimately our fundamental priority has to be making sure that everybody has the care they need.
Lisa Peterson: Over the past decade, there has been progress in the way we understand and talk about substance use disorders, including the recognition that this is a public health issue. Our policies and systems, however, continue to perpetuate stigma, resulting in ongoing harm. Where would you begin to help the United States ‘walk the walk’ of ending fear, bias, and discrimination towards people with substance use disorders?
John Goncalves: It starts with education because the stigma that we're experiencing in the wider community is unfounded and it's also the stigma that we experience around harm reduction centers. If you look at what's happening internationally, harm reduction has been very successful all across the world, and for decades. There's clear research on the effectiveness of harm reduction centers and I'm proud of my role as Chair of the State Legislative Affairs Committee on the Providence City Council to have put a lot of bottom-up pressure on the General Assembly to pass the bill to make sure that we have harm reduction centers in our state. That was passed in 2021. The problem is, as a state, we're not putting our money where our mouth is.
It has been two years since that law was signed and there are all these barriers in local communities in terms of the implementation of harm reduction centers. I've been a fierce advocate for trying to get harm reduction centers via our local zoning laws in downtown Providence, and the thing that is frustrating for me is the powers that be. Unfortunately, there are people out there who have a lot of power, money, and influence and they are some of the biggest barriers to providing people with the care and necessary resources they need to succeed. We need to address that.
As your next congressperson, rest assured that we are going to fight back, especially with these deeply rooted special interests that don't want to put people first. They're worried about their bottom line, and how it's going to affect Kennedy Plaza or their businesses, but they're not willing to address the underlying root challenges that we're experiencing in our society. That is a shame.
Sabina Matos: Part of what is going to remove stigma is to highlight the members of the community that have been in recovery for a long time. That can be a good example for others who want to take the journey of getting into recovery, to see that it's possible, but also to educate the rest of the population, the community at large, and let us know to remove the stigma because we can see individuals that have been in recovery for many years being successful. We need to share those stories. It is communication with the general public and communication with elected officials to educate us about the struggles the community goes through, but also, we have to be at the forefront, speaking out and acknowledging that individuals in recovery are contributing to our community and are valuable members of our society.
Ana Quezada: This community, specifically communities of color, look at substance use disorder like it's a disease. We need to educate people about it because anybody can go through this. It can happen no matter what education you have, no matter what color you are, no matter who you are, or how connected you are. It can happen to anybody. Many years ago, in the seventies and eighties, many people of color got incarcerated because of marijuana use. That started changing when children from Brown University were getting in trouble. Then we started saying marijuana's not a big deal, let's change the law to help them.
Now we see this problem going through the richest communities and we are doing something about it because it's going through the communities that are connected and wealthy. But when it was people of color this was happening to, people weren't doing anything. That's where the stigma comes from. We used to think that it only happened to poor people and people who live in poor neighborhoods. But now we know it can happen to you no matter where you live, no matter who you are, no matter if you have a master’s degree or a doctorate, no matter what education you have. It can happen to anybody. That's going to help us to change the schema on overdose and overuse. This has to be done with education; teaching children and teaching the community. If somebody does rehab, that does not mean that person is bad, or a criminal. We need to change that stigma, but we need to do it together.
Gabe Amo: The remarks you heard from my fellow candidates were illuminating and I agree with them for the most part. For me, it's about proximity. We are all in this together. I've worked at the heights of government in Washington and Rhode Island and in those senior staff roles, I've worked with people who are in long-term recovery from substance use disorders. I experienced it through highly capable, amazing people. My parents are two immigrants from West Africa. For them to come to terms with family members dealing with substance use disorder required some education, but once they were proximate and felt that this was not a problem limited to a certain subset of the population, but to folks in our community, and that around us all the time are folks in recovery, it's something that stigmatization is not going to solve. That makes a huge difference.
From a public health standpoint, one of the first things we need to do is establish the frequency of need and know that there are people among us who are part of said populations and don't isolate them. You get closer, learn more, and dive deeper. That's what I hope we're able to pursue to make sure that we reduce stigma for folks in recovery.
The forum then shifted to comments and questions from the audience. Gabe Amo left, and Senator Sandra Cano and Don Carlson arrived.
Audience Comment: I am a person in long-term recovery and I have a big concern. Where are the Latino community or other minorities being represented? I see other communities getting support. I have been through the trenches and I had to figure things out on my own. Stigma is a big issue not only in the community but also in the behavioral health field. Nurses treat us like garbage. Doctors talk down to us, social workers are tired of us. They think that we are never going to get better. They're giving up on us and I don't understand. As somebody said, we are humans just like everybody else. But remember we also vote. That needs to be taken into consideration.
I was talking to this lady who has an issue with her 18-year-old daughter who has substance abuse issues. Mom is probably 45, Latina. She knows nothing about this stuff, not a thing. Over and over again, I see that. For certain communities to get information and support, somebody in power should be able to get that to them.
Audience member Pat Ford: Richard Cowen coined the phrase "iron law of prohibition" which states that as law enforcement becomes more intense, the potency of prohibited substances increases. It's also said that legal drugs are safe drugs. As a member of Congress, will you support the legalization of all drugs and narcotics?
Sandra Cano: As a state legislator I have been very supportive of the cannabis legislation, which legalized marijuana. I will do the same thing at the federal level. I worked very hard with my colleagues in the General Assembly to make sure that we not only supported legalization but also that we protected communities of color by decriminalizing the people that have been already punished for [marijuana-related] crimes in the past. I want to do the same thing at the federal level. Our communities of color are disproportionately affected by this issue.
For other drugs, I would do research. I believe it's important that I understand the impacts, not only for the community but also for the country. I don't know if any countries have legalized any other drugs. I'd love to do some research and learn more about it. But as for marijuana or cannabis, I will support legalization at the federal level.
John Goncalves: I support the decriminalization of natural drugs like marijuana. I think there needs to be more work done on synthetic drugs. There's a clear difference between synthetic and natural drugs. We certainly want to think about the impacts that certain drugs have on our community, but decriminalization is an important aspect of that. We do not need to be putting people behind bars for the use of marijuana. There have been many who have been locked up as a result of using marijuana, which just perpetuates their inability to access jobs or housing and we need to address that head-on. I appreciate that question, but there needs to be nuance on that.
Sabina Matos: I support the legalization of cannabis. I'm not ready to support the legalization of any other drugs beyond that. But one thing that I do support is to make sure that those who use other drugs are not sent to prison, but instead sent to rehab programs.
Ana Quezada: In many countries in Europe, those drugs are legal. It is legal for people to use any kind of drug. Portugal is not a big country like the United States. The people are very conservative. Anybody can use any kind of drug, but I think we have to be more informed about that. The “war on drugs” needs to end and this is a way to do it. But at the same time, I think we need to educate people about it because we don't have that much information yet. We need to educate ourselves better before we make that decision. I know that in many countries in Europe, you can use any kind of drug already and they're having fewer issues and fewer people overdosing on drugs than in the United States where it's illegal.
Maybe the way to end the war on drugs is to make sure anybody can use any kind of drug. Portugal and many other countries don't have the problems the United States has at this time. Whatever we're doing is not working. We need to see what other places do and how they do it for us to copy them. Maybe it's better that everybody's legal to use any kind of drug but supervise them - make sure they have the resources they need. There's a new program that we started in Rhode Island, where you can go and do drugs safely. Somebody will be there in case you overdose. That's the way to go.
John Goncalves: The other thing that we need to be thinking about is how we hold the pharmaceutical industry accountable. Black and brown communities are disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs, but there is little accountability for the pharmaceutical industry. The pharmaceutical industry, in many cases, is more of a sick care industry as opposed to a healthcare industry. When we think about public health and the wraparound services people need and the mental health challenges we need to address as a society, we need to look at this more broadly and address it holistically.
Sandra Cano: When I said that I support, at the federal level, the legalization of cannabis, I want to make sure that the profits are reinvested in the community, just like we've been doing in the state of Rhode Island. We could do better, but we've been doing some investments in harm reduction centers and mental health to make sure that we empower the communities that are disproportionately affected by the criminalization [of drugs.] I also want to make sure that we have a safe place, just like Senator Quezada said, for users to be able to feel safe, like the harm reduction centers we have in Rhode Island. We need to be proactive about making sure that those investments come back to the communities.
Don Carlson: I would support the legalization of cannabis - really to regulate cannabis. Some studies show there can be harmful effects, on teenagers in particular, on adolescent minds. We must make sure that we regulate levels of THC and not let it be some corporate-sponsored cannabis project products. I've been pushed to do a lot of research by some friends who've had some issues. There does seem to be a growing amount of evidence that the nature of cannabis is changing over time, becoming more dangerous, mostly driven by corporate profits. This is a big company kind of game, a marketing spend where you push it harder and harder, and you get the THC higher and higher, so people get more of a rush out of the drug. It does need to be regulated so that it doesn't get into the hands of adolescents. I would say utilization can be regulated.
Some drugs never should have been made illegal. Typically those would fall into the hallucinogen category. A lot of those were made illegal in the 1970s to criminalize conduct, to put people in jail on purpose, like people of color and the anti-war movement. There were nefarious motives for illegalization in the seventies. Believe it or not, some of these drugs weren't illegal when I was a little boy, which shocked me when I read that in that book. I thought they had been illegal since the dawn of time. I'm proud to say that I wrote the very first check to start the Yale Center for Psychedelic Science, which is a group of well-organized, gifted psychiatrists and psychologists working hard to look at the power of drugs like psilocybin to combat depression and afflictions of anxiety.
It's a very personal issue for me. I have a child who's afflicted with severe OCD and some of the studies at Yale are showing tremendous promise in helping people with OCD, helping them to get better and helping them not get rid of their obsessive thoughts, but get rid of the compulsions and the disorders that make their lives so limited, a part of the disease that's debilitating. So, not all drugs, but with thoughtful scientific research, some drugs for their therapeutic effects should never have been criminalized.
Audience Question: How is criminalizing people in our community for fentanyl helping? This seems to be health-related, not criminal-related. What actions are you going to take to change this?
John Goncalves: It goes back to the question we just answered, which is the difference between synthetic drugs and natural drugs. You heard one of my colleagues on this stage talk about the fact that there are natural drugs, and whether you think about mushrooms or psychedelics, they can address some of the mental health challenges that people are facing. Decriminalization is a start, but it also goes back to holding pharmaceutical companies accountable. There is no reason why they get slaps on the wrist for dishing out all this fentanyl in our communities and providing our communities with opioids and not suffering the consequences for it. Let's be frank, if it was a person of color who was distributing fentanyl on the streets, we all know what the outcome would be. It's an equity issue. If we're going to be honest, we need to make sure that we're holding the pharmaceutical companies accountable because they are complicit in this problem. Many people have loved ones who have died as a result of the pharmaceutical companies' abdication of responsibility, and that needs to be taken very seriously.
Sabina Matos: Similar to what I said earlier, as of right now I'm in support of cannabis being legalized at the federal level. I'm not ready to say that I will support the legalization of fentanyl. What I want to see is that those that are using fentanyl, who became addicted based on medical treatment, are treated as a medical issue. It's not an addiction that should be looked down upon. It should be treated as a medical condition.
Ana Quezada: Before I continue, I want to answer her comment about the Latino community. One of the issues with the Latino community is the language barrier. Many times it's hard for a Latino to find counseling, or manage to find any program directed to the Latino community. We need to teach our children to go into psychology. We have few Latino doctors and that's the biggest problem. I get a lot of moms calling me and saying, "My son is using drugs and I don't know where to take him." Many Latinos go back to their country because they think they can get better treatment there, but it's not because the treatment's better over there, it's because they can speak to the doctor in their language and the doctor can understand what the issue is.
When you don't speak the language, it's very hard to find the resources or a program your children can go to. When parents don't speak the language, it's hard for them to help their children. It's more of a language issue than anything else.
A few years ago, we passed Kristen's Law in the State House. I was against it from the beginning. The reason I voted no on that bill was because I knew that was targeting people of color. It wasn't for anybody else, it was for people of color. Under this law, if you sell drugs to somebody and that person dies, you get prison for life. It is not fair because sometimes people are selling these drugs and they don't know what they're selling. When I voted against that law, Senator Hanna Gallo got upset with me for a month. I looked for other Senators to vote against Kristin's Law because it wasn't the way to do it.
Finishing the war on drugs is the way to go. We need to stop looking at people with substance abuse issues like they are criminals. The issue is not criminal. They have a health issue and need to look for help. We need to find a solution, not send them to jail. In the beginning, I was against the marijuana bill and then I educated myself. It was the right thing to do. One thing I like is that people who went to jail for marijuana can expunge their records automatically. Communities of color paid a high price in the past, but not the community that benefits from selling marijuana today. Not many people in our community qualify to have one of those places where you can [legally] sell marijuana. But we were the ones who paid the price.
Sabina Matos: When I was on the Providence City Council, I was struggling to find resources and information in the community. When Colleen Daley Ndoye came to the neighborhood with Project Renew, it was a blessing to me because they were able to provide resources and information that we didn't have in the Latino community. Unfortunately, there is a lot of misunderstanding about the challenges that individuals who are using substances face, what they're going through, and the available resources. The reason I'm in this forum today is because I want to learn from all of you. I'm looking forward to continuing this conversation and learning from you what ideas you have and ways in which we can do better.
Sandra Cano: It's the responsibility of policymakers to differentiate between mental health and a person that is harming the community. As Councilman Goncalves said, the pharmaceutical industry is responsible for a lot of things, but the investments we need to do in [terms of] organizations that bring education and a holistic approach to resources is what we need to start doing. I am very proud to have Project Weber Renew in the City of Pawtucket. One of the things the organization does well, and I see their work, is that not only do they provide hand-in-hand support, but they also connect people with resources for career readiness, job opportunities, and investments in being reinstated in the community when people are coming out of jail, maybe because they were criminalized for some charges in the past because they were selling marijuana.
I'm very proud to have been part of the legislature, along with the main sponsor, in creating the 988 mental health crisis line. That comes from the federal level and it trickles down to the state. Why is that important? Because organizations that bring resources to members of the community that are suffering a mental health crisis have professionals that are ready to speak with them 24/7 and these professionals deescalate the way that these individuals are feeling. I have a family member that goes through a lot of challenges and he got into being a dependent on opiates because he got into an accident and he had chronic pain and the only way that he could relieve that pain was through opiates. A person that doesn't understand the journey my cousin went through is going to be judgmental.
We need to look at these cases in a personal way, but we also, as policymakers, need to look, in a holistic way, at doing investments to connect the dots for the individuals, like my cousin, that go through these issues and have second chances in life and people that guide them so they can succeed. For me, it's about education, engagement, and a holistic approach. Organizations such as Project Renew or RICARES make sure that we do the work together. It takes a lot of us to create these investments in policies that work for people, especially when we know that is something that we cannot control. My cousin is suffering and he needs help. That is why having an opportunity to connect with the people themselves and having a different perspective can allow you to do policies that work for everyone.
Don Carlson: This issue is so important and I don't mean in any way to give it short shrift. I am also here to learn, and I just learned a lot from [Senator Cano] about her cousin's experience. There's a lot of wisdom in our collective life experience among the five people up here, everybody in our society has had some interaction with drugs in some way - some person in their life that was addicted and had to go through the process of recovery. We've all been touched by that. Our society today is a lot more compassionate than it was 20 or 30 years ago about people who go through the process of addiction and recovery.
I had someone in my own life, a close family member of mine, who wound up going into a rehab center. When I went to The Meadows in Arizona and spent a family week down there, I learned more about myself, life, and the power of guilt and shame to destroy people's lives in that week than all the other weeks in my life combined. It was an incredibly powerful experience to be with people who had gone through that experience and were on their way to recovery. Sometimes a bumpy path to recovery, sometimes an unsuccessful path to recovery, but the wisdom that comes from that suffering is profound. People in this room probably have a lot to share in terms of that wisdom. I'm eager to listen to it.
I want to underscore that it doesn't make sense to criminalize addiction. Addiction is a medical condition and needs to be treated as a medical condition. I learned that the hard way with my loved one and the idea that their addiction would be treated as a crime seems insane to me. We've come a long way on that. There's a higher level of awareness than there used to be. People are far less judgmental of addiction and see it more as a mental health issue or even a physiological issue like the addiction to opioids that derives from pain and the use of opiates in pain management.
John Goncalves: I just want to affirm what's been shared. I appreciate you sharing that and all the stories that we're hearing. I would love to continue to glean from the expertise of the people in this room. You are all dealing with this in a very nuanced way every single day. I was having conversations with folks who are in the community doing this work, seeing how you're helping to assist people every single day. This is going to be a little unorthodox, but I just want to give each and everyone here a round of applause for all the work we do.
The other thing that I want to share is that we have to be looking at the underlying causes here. Equity has to be at the forefront of all the decisions that we make. Growing up in the City of Providence, I went to Providence Public Schools. I was someone who grew up in a family that suffered from poverty and food insecurity. We need to address the vast income inequality because what it results in is the trauma that kids are experiencing in our schools. I've served as an elementary school teacher for nearly the last decade, thinking about what our kids experience on a day-to-day basis, particularly kids who identify as LGBTQIA, when we're seeing Republicans double down on their attacks on certain communities. We're seeing the recent United States Supreme Court rulings, for example. That is affecting our psyche, and in many cases, it's resulting in some of these public health and mental health challenges that we're experiencing as a society.
I know a constituent who lives on $25 a month and many people like that are in our community. This person gets shelf-stable, government-funded food, but we need to be thinking holistically about how we address things like that. Because if we're not providing people with the best, high-quality, natural organic foods, we're perpetuating a system that in many cases is a sick care system as opposed to a healthcare system. We have to do everything that we can to educate, but also provide people with the resources they need to live a healthy and natural life and that they're using natural mechanisms as opposed to some of the synthetic drugs out there that are harming our community.
The last thing I want to share is that I've heard the word disorder used quite a lot and I think our language is so important. We have to normalize these things. When we use language like disorder, that is a barrier, a hindrance to the work that we need to do to educate folks in the community, but also addressing the challenges that we're experiencing as a society.
Audience Question: Let's make a fun scenario. Today was the special election and you won. Hakeem Jeffries calls to tell you that he will make you a ranking member on any congressional committee you like, provided you tell him what your first legislative proposal will be. What is that committee and proposal and why?
Sabina Matos: I have been vocal about my desire to join the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee because it's connected to the work that I've been doing at the local level. I have seen the challenges that we have in infrastructure, but I have also seen the need to have a better transportation system that is more consistent with the need of the communities that I represent right now. The transportation that we have is not the best way to support the needs of the community.
Sandra Cano: I will go to the Committee on Education and the Workforce. I started my public service role in the school committee in Pawtucket. I went to the city council. Now I'm a state senator and I'm the chair of the Senate Education Committee. I've done a lot of work in education policy. I believe that education is an equalizer. Labor and education go hand in hand. My first piece of legislation would be to bring money into our school districts. For example, I've been working extremely hard as a chair of the education committee to bring mental health professionals into our schools.
I have done a lot of work with my colleagues to pass the Trauma-Informed Schools Act in Rhode Island. Professionals are getting trained, but there is no budget for that training at the federal level. We need to make sure that we have more social workers and psychologists in the schools that work with the staff, teachers, students, and families. Those investments need to happen. We knew this was an issue pre-pandemic, but families are suffering and they don't know where to go to. Schools should be a place where kids and families find the opportunity to get mental health support, social workers, psychologists, and Medicaid and Medicare reimbursement, so those funds come right into our system.
John Goncalves: Budgets are moral documents, so the House Committee on Appropriations. If you are part of dispersing federal monies to different programs, you have a lot of leverage. For legislation, Medicare for All. If we start there, I think that would do a tremendous service for the people that we represent. And I'm just going to throw in the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act and the Green New Deal. We need the most aggressive climate justice legislation and if we don't address the existential crisis that is our climate, we will cease to exist as a species. We need to address that head-on.
Don Carlson: Since Senator Cano is already taking care of education, which is the most important thing, I will go for the House Committee on Ways and Means, which is one nobody talks about, but writes all the tax policies. They regulate and decide how the government takes money. The most important thing that we need to solve after we solve education is wealth inequality. Income and wealth inequality is hindering our economy. There have been times in our history when we've had a much more even distribution of income and wealth, in the fifties and sixties when our tax rates were much fairer, and there was less of a gap between the very rich and the very poor.
That's when we grow the fastest because people have money in their pockets to put food on the table, clothes for their children, buy decent shelter, and have healthcare. That's when our economy not only grows the fastest but is growing most fairly. Our economy will be churning out the things that regular people need, so fewer luxury yachts, fur coats, and Rolexes and more textbooks, winter coats, boots, and all the things that families need to raise their children. Making our tax policy fairer, having a wealth tax so that the very rich can't afford all the assets forever and live off those assets forever, and spreading that out better across our society would be the most important thing I'd like to accomplish. A famous English Lord who once said “Wealth is like manure. It's only good if it is spread.” If it sits in a big toxic pile. It just gets toxic, more toxic, and poisonous. If you spread it out in the field, the crops grow and the flowers bloom. So what you want to do is spread wealth around and it makes our economy run better.
John Goncalves: That should also apply to our politics, as in Citizens United. There's big money in politics and I think that results in an unlevel playing field when it comes to what we're doing in this race.
Ana Quezada: I remember when I went to a meeting with the Senate President when I won my seat and she asked me, "What committee would you like to be on?" And I said, "Education because that's the one that opens the door to our children." For years in Rhode Island, we had the worst education department, but we've made a lot of progress. Rhode Island copies a lot of things from Massachusetts, but one of the things that we decided not to copy is to make education a constitutional right for children in Rhode Island. We need to change that.
I have so much legislation for criminal justice and that's my main issue when I get to Washington because people of color who committed a minor crime get years but when somebody else does the same crime - it's not justice for all. I'm part of the Senate Judiciary Committee here in Rhode Island and I would love to be part of the Judiciary Committee in Washington because that's where you can pass legislation like LEOBOR reform. Also, life without parole. If a kid commits a crime before they are 18 years old they should have the opportunity for parole after 15 years. It's very easy for people to say, "I will do this, I will do that,” but I've done it, I'm doing it, and I will continue to do it. Look at my record, it speaks for itself. I will do this. I've worked for the last seven years that I've been in the Senate on criminal justice and I will continue that work in Washington.
Audience Question: My name is Roxanne and I have been in this environment for a long time. I was an active addict for 10 years. I've been in recovery for 11. I'm a recovery research scientist now. I have a clinical background. I have a lot of moving parts. I know a lot of people. What I hear a lot is this misunderstanding of what addiction and recovery are. It has very little to do with any type of substance. That's just the most obvious symptom of what is going on. We tend to view recovery in terms of the immediate - They're not using, so they're okay.
The reality is that clinically, someone is not considered stable until about a year. Research has identified different phases of recovery. At about three years you become sustained, at five years the statistical likelihood of you developing another substance use disorder drops to that of the general public. So a lot happens between active use and getting to that stable point.
We have this continuum of care that has major gaps. When somebody decides, like I did, "I just don't want to do this anymore. I want to get help." They call, there are no beds. We just continue using. Or how about they make it to the treatment facility, but insurance runs out? "Eh, you got to go." Or they go home and their kids are nagging and they haven't been a parent in five years? Now they have to go, even worse, to DCYF. What are your plans to address the continuum of care so that people find recovery and initiate recovery that is sustaining?
Sandra Cano: Roxanne, I like your passion and have always admired your work and advocacy in the community. It takes people like you to do the organizing with people like us to make sure that we bring those voices to the State House or Congress for legislators to understand the real impacts. I've been around for a long time as a legislator at the local and state level. We are most successful in passing legislation when the community organizes and bring strategies to the sponsors and finds strategic answers to the problem. In this case, the first thing I would do is advocate for sustainable resources that are not going away, like a line item in the budget that goes to the services you were speaking about.
As a member of the finance committee, I have seen the way to do this. If we show, with data and testimony, that being proactive is going to be more of a cost benefit to the state than being reactive, those investments are going to make sense for legislators. I'll be honest, sometimes money is the issue.
I'll tell you a story. Last year at the General Assembly we passed legislation, from myself and Representative David Morales, to Cover All Kids. We wanted to sure that Medicaid covered every kid regardless of immigration status, regardless of socioeconomic background. The way we were able to do that is with the data that it cost $3 million to cover the kids, but it was costing $12 million to the state when they would go to the emergency room and the state would have to cover that.
I would plan to lead with data, with advocates, how much it costs, what resources it takes to get the services that are needed, and be proactive instead of reactive. As a legislator, I plan to do that. I will be a person that is open and transparent, who will learn and work with community members like yourself to know what it takes and have a plan and strategy. That is what I will be doing. Thank you for your work. Your passion is amazing.
John Goncalves: That was just such a poignant question. Thank you for bringing that to the fore. I've been the lead sponsor on dozens and dozens of pieces of legislation at the local level and the kinds of legislation that in my opinion have been the most effective are those where it's truly a grassroots effort. It's the bottom-up approach, as opposed to a top-down approach to governing. When we listen to the stories, the nuances, and the challenges, and to your point, the lack of continuum of care, that's when people fall through the cracks. Having a data-driven approach, but also listening to the real stories, is so important.
A lot of people talk about theory, but the reality on the ground, when you talk to people who have undergone some of these situations, simply cannot be replicated. It is incumbent on us, as elected leaders, not to pretend that we have all the answers, but to center the communities in every decision we're making and make sure that the community is involved in the legislative process and that people aren't falling through the cracks. [The advocacy] must be nuanced, targeted, pointed, and specific to address the challenges that people are facing out there.
To my colleague's point, when you do that, it leads to better legislation that's reflective of the needs on the ground. This work isn't theoretical. I applaud the actual legislators on this stage because there are a lot of people who use all the right talking points, they say all the right things but haven't dealt with these things as a legislator in your life as a privileged person. There's a lot of privilege out there and I would venture to say that for those of us who have the lived experience of knowing what it feels like when community members go through this, in a very nuanced way, it can't be replicated.
Sabina Matos: What you explained happening with the continuum is another example of what I mentioned earlier about the problem with the definition of homelessness. We should have resources at the local level to assist someone in that situation to find a place where they can stay. As long as we have a definition of homelessness that doesn't prioritize individuals, we're going to make it harder for someone to get into recovery and be able to get their life on a different path.
Ana Quezada: It's insurance. We have to make sure that everybody has great insurance because to be able to get into the right place, you have to have insurance. If your insurance is not good they're not going to take you in or, if they take you in, they're only going to give you one or two nights, not enough time for you to be able to get the treatment you need. The first thing is to get Medicare for All so everybody has the same insurance. We can guarantee that we will get more beds for people who need treatment, that anybody can go to any facility, because [right now it] all depends on how rich you are to get the treatment that you need.
If you are rich, you're going to be able to pay for that treatment, but when you don't have the money and you don't have the insurance, you're not going to get the treatment you need for that issue. One of the biggest problems we face today is that the treatment that you're going to get for your problem depends on your insurance. If we fix Medicare for All and everybody has the same insurance, we'll be able to cover that issue easily. We need to bring the resources to the state to make sure that we have more available beds when somebody needs them because many parents have to go out of state to bring their children to treatment. After all, we don't have that in Rhode Island. We don't have the treatment those children need. We don't have enough beds or enough programs for everybody to be able to get the treatment they deserve.
Don Carlson: Senator Quezada nailed it with the issue of insurance. In the two mental health crises that I've encountered in my lived experience with people that I was responsible for, we were fortunate to have insurance. It was a close call because the Affordable Care Act, sponsored by President Barrack Obama in 2010, saved our bacon the first time around because that put minimum standards in health insurance so that people could get the care they need on a sustained basis. This is an example of where legislation can make the market work better. The Affordable Care Act put minimum standards across the board for all the different insurance policies so that people who have health insurance, who are lucky enough or privileged enough to have it, actually get that sustained continuum of care, but also have good doctors who authorize it for them or good counselors, like you, who can prescribe it for them and help them understand that they need it.
That doesn't help people who don't have insurance or the people who have inadequate insurance that's either illegal or government-funded and doesn't quite cover all that they need. We need more resources devoted to it. This is an area where we have to put in minimum standards across the board so that whatever insurance plans we have, whether we're going to go for Medicare for All, which is a great idea, or whether we're going to stick with private insurance, we have minimum thresholds. Even when you can see the path that says that the $3 million is a lot cheaper than the $12 million, as Senator Cano said, it's smarter to spend the money now than to spend it later, it doesn't always happen. Sometimes one insurance company wants to save money today because they think another insurance company will be on the hook in the future. It's not a system in which rational choice dominates. Having those minimum standards is important and they should be built to provide that.
Audience Question: My name's Lori Dorsey and I've been in recovery for 35 years. I went to treatment in Rhode Island and worked my way through a very long involved story, but I wound up at BHDDH working to oversee the treatment programs. I'm not sure you understand how it works here. It's a little different. People get more time in residential treatment with Medicaid than they do with commercial insurance. That's why a lot of people go out of state. Commercial insurance in Rhode Island does not cover much and I'm not sure what the reason is. It may be the condition of some of our programs that need to be rehabilitated or our buildings. They're not very attractive. It's almost impossible to get in on demand. For addiction, we always say you got to get 'em while they're hot because they're going to change their mind in a minute.
It's a very tough disease to fight, but it can be done. I lost my son to addiction a few years ago and he worked in a treatment program. He was in recovery. He was going to AA and NA every single day. He and I were at a 12-step convention together the weekend before and I did not know he was using and neither did the treatment program he was working for. The point I want to make is, this can happen to anyone at any time. The person next to you could be using, you don't always know.
Our system is very heavily managed by BHLink. We and SAMHSA, who we get our funding from, have a designated priority list. Pregnant women have to go in first. It's tough. There's a whole priority list and a lot of people just can't get in. We don't have enough beds. It's the most frustrating thing I've ever seen in my life, trying to help an addict get in and they can't. And the beds are very heavily managed.
When people are in treatment, they don't know when they're going home. They can get a message the day before that you're out of here, so while they're in treatment, they're not focusing on treatment, they're focusing on housing, how are they going to live when they get out? It happens to people with houses too. They don't know what is going to happen because it's done day by day with insurance calls made every couple of days. How can you focus on what you're learning? There's something wrong with the entire system as far as that.
And in Rhode Island, we don't have a dedicated fund. Everything goes into the general fund. The DUI money doesn't go to BHDDH. The harm reduction money that everybody seems to be getting isn't going to go to BHDDH, it's going into the general fund. It's a system-wide problem that is so big - the way that we're running things, people are dying like I've never seen. There are no beds. There are never enough beds. You can't even get into a hospital. Butler's got them on cots in a waiting room for days. Do you think they're staying? They're going to get up and walk out when they feel better, they're not going to sit there and wait and go to residential. It's a nightmare. There's not enough money for Medicaid to pay anything that is going to be a livable wage.
John Goncalves: I'm sure everyone agrees with this, but it requires leadership. Many people turn a blind eye to this issue. I'm sure you've been there a million times asking, "Why does the system not work?" I think it's a lack of leadership.
Audience Question: I am the mother of a son that three weeks ago overdosed and had to do Narcan four times and then get CPR. I went to the hospital, we got there at six o'clock and 10 o'clock he woke up because he was okay. To me, addiction is the same as mental health. It has to be because when somebody's brain is that absorbed, how can they think rationally? How can they possibly make any kind of normal decision, or have a normal reaction? Their brain is hijacked by the drug, fentanyl, heroin, cocaine - whatever is out there he was taking. He was on a waiting list to go into rehab when this happened. He's been out for three weeks and now he's trying again, no beds. There are no Medicaid beds in certain places.
I'm only speaking as a mom, I know very little other than that this has happened to me. For me, this is a form of suicide. I don't think if somebody called you and said, "I'm going to jump off the Newport Bridge" you would say to them, "I'm sorry we can't help you right now. Can you call us back tomorrow?" My son was told to call every day to see if he could get a bed. He wasn't getting up until noon because he was using all the time. It's a nightmare for a family. It's a nightmare for a parent.
He's been using for 20 years, but the progression of this and the drugs that are out there, they're meant to kill people. That's what they're meant to do. Unfortunately, he doesn't understand. He might want to understand but he can't comprehend it. For two hours in that hospital, I didn't know if he was alive. I came here tonight because I just feel so strongly that there needs to be more help for these addicts. My son wasn't born wanting to be an addict. I had an older son who was an addict and also had a mental health disease. Once the mental health disease was addressed, the addiction stopped because he was covering up with the meds. This may be a case with this son too, I don't know. But nobody is doing anything.
There are times that he wants to get well, and Lori just said it: if you don't grab them at that moment when they say, "I need help" the next day they're going to say "No, I don't need help, I'm fine." It has to be immediate. I would love to know what you will do once you get to Congress. What will you do to help? They're not all homeless and they're not all uneducated. We need more detox, we need more beds. We need more staff. We need everything, to help everybody, as much as we possibly can. We're not going to be able to save everybody, I understand that, but doing the right things can help.
Ana Quezada: I'm very sorry to hear your story. As a mother, I can understand. I have three children and I can imagine what you go through. In the beginning, I said we need to bring more resources. I have MAP Behavioral Health Services in my community and a few months ago I got a phone call from them. They were closing because the heat wasn't working. I did everything possible to make sure that those 102 beds in Rhode Island did not close. I went to the department, I talked to the director, and I made sure somebody came to see the problem MAP was having with the boiler. I did everything in my power because I know how important it is to have beds available for people who are going through an overdose.
I've been working on this issue for many years. As I said, I'm the only one who had a website talking about overdose. I checked everybody else's website and no one is talking about that. I'm the only one, from day one. It's a crisis and we have to do something. We need to bring more resources to the state. We need to bring more awareness to people because we don't talk about it. We don't talk about overdose and it has killed more people than guns and everything combined, but people are not talking about it. It's an issue that we need to talk about.
We need to do something ASAP. It's not something that can wait. Our children are dying and if we don't do this now we are going to have more problems in the future. When I get to Congress I will bring the resources Rhode Island needs for families like yours, so you don't have to go through that. Thank you for being here today. We are learning from you. You are the expert, you are the people who are advocating for this issue. We need to hear from you what needs to be done because you have the solution. You deal with this issue every single day. We don't. We only do legislation. That's why I work hard. For many years in the Senate, this is when an issue I've been working on.
Sabina Matos: Thank you for sharing your story. I agree, as the senator said, we need more resources. I'm committed to working to make sure that we bring as many resources as we can to Rhode Island to address the challenges that our community is dealing with, like mental health and substance use. What you said is very important. Not everyone experiencing substance use is homeless. We need to remember that. The reason I came here was to learn and hear from you. My approach to public service, since I've been in local government, has been to know that I don't have all the answers. I know that I don't know everything, but my approach to public service has been to know where to go to find the answers. The number one thing is to admit when you don't know something and make sure that you're willing to go and find the right resources to get that information. When it comes to this space, I hope I can count on your support and your feedback to represent the people of Rhode Island.
John Goncalves: I want to thank you for having the courage to share your story and I just can't thank you enough just for being open, honest, and authentic. I know we're pretty far away, so I'm just going to give you an air hug if you don't mind. Many people like yourself are dealing with these issues and it requires real leadership, people who are going to center the voices of the people who are dealing with these challenges every single day. One of the mantras I live by is that the people who are closest to the problems are closest to the solutions. It's no different in this case.
Senator Quezada, we've got a lot of stuff on our website too, a real track record of getting results. You can ask my constituents on the east side, I'm effective, reliable, and incredibly responsive. That's my reputation and I promise you that we will do everything in our power to exercise leadership. It's exactly what I've done at the local level, bringing millions and millions of dollars to organizations or community centers in my immediate neighborhood, in the fastest growing ward, not only in the City of Providence but in the state. That's the kind of leadership that I've going to exhibit at the federal level. Thank you all for your engagement today. I want to thank you all for being open and sharing your stories. I encourage you to check out our website, johngforcongress.com. We have a very robust policy platform and I would love to work in partnership with you on addressing the issues that every one of us cares about.
Sandra Cano: Thank you so much for sharing your story. As a mom, your words resonated with me. No mom or family should go through what you did. A lot of people that go through the same experience don't have the opportunity to lift their voices and let legislators know about their experience. It's real. It's happening, and it's affecting members of our community. We need to do better. I'm currently a state senator and I would say that we've made some progress but we shouldn't be in a state where we are not prioritizing saving lives. That, for me, is the issue here. We are not saving lives and that is a problem.
That being said, there is an issue I would like to mention as a state legislator, a city council member, and a school committee member. One of the main problems I see in government is that we don't talk to each other about solutions. We make it so difficult. We put hurdles into making policy work for people and that should stop. If elected to Congress, one of the things that I would love to do is bring the voices of the community. I am one community member that is involved in the community and for the community. I take pride in that. I'd love to continue that advocacy at the federal level, but with [community voices centered] - the people that know what it takes to make a difference. I cannot do this work alone. This work needs to be collective. I would be honored to be the voice you need and to lift that advocacy and effective leadership in Congress as I do here at the state level.
We need to start by talking to each other. We have a very divisive country right now and it takes someone that has the right attitude to make a difference. Having an understanding of how the legislature work is a priority and having the passion to advocate for your issues is what is going to make a difference. I hope you consider me. I'm Sandra Cano, I'm running for Congress and it's going to take one of us to make a difference for all of us. And I hope you consider me September 5th.
Don Carlson: Thank you for sharing your story. I could hear the pain in your voice, see it in your face. As a parent of three adult children, I know how hard it is when they're out there in the world and they're struggling and there's nothing you can do to help. You're only as happy as your happiest child. I think a lot about overdoses. I'm a volunteer EMT, so I think about it every day. When you see Narcan administered, it's a dramatic thing. You said your son used Narcan four times that night because it only lasts for 15 minutes or so. I wish everybody knew that. I carry some in my car all the time just in case.
If you ever need to administer it, you've got to do it like every 15 minutes, then you have to get that person to the hospital. I've experienced situations where people went to sleep after having Narcan and died.
Senator Cano put it well. These are lives at stake. If this was a little girl down a well or a soccer team caught in a cave, we would expend all kinds of resources to save these lives. Why don't we think about this in the same way, with the same level of urgency? It goes to our attitudes about mental health.
I've had a lot of long talks with Patrick Kennedy who used to have the office we're running for. Patrick Kennedy brought a lot of attention to this issue because he struggled so much and his family struggled so much with mental health. His big thing was always mental health. It will always be the right answer. It will always be the thing you want to work on. It will always pay dividends. That was the advice he gave me in his race. That's where we should be focusing because addiction is not always a cause by itself. It often is the result of the mental health issues many people have alluded to. We're going to look back on this time right now as the dark ages of mental health, about how little we understand about the brain, how it functions, how mental health operates, and how we can treat it. The investment in mental health is something that I want to work on as a congressman.
Lisa Peterson: Thank you so much. I appreciate all of the candidates' time getting here for whatever time you were able. I know you're balancing several commitments, so it's meaningful to me and to this group that you made the space to be with us today. I appreciate the audience's feedback and great questions.
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You can watch the video here:
Rhode Island Association for Addiction Professionals (RIAAP), RICARES, Anchor Recovery, East Bay Community Action Program, VICTA, and Project Weber/RENEW