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Freeman-Wilson Addresses the Nation’s Opioid Crisis

On Wednesday, October 10 at a National League of Cities (NLC) briefing on Capitol Hill, three mayors from diverse communities around the country described steps they are taking to combat the opioid epidemic in their cities and the partnership they need from federal leaders. Gary, Indiana Mayor Karen Freeman Wilson, NLC’s first vice president, was joined by Huntington, West Virginia Mayor Steve Williams and Knoxville, Tennessee Mayor Madeline Rogero at the briefing, which was opened by West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin.

“The opioid crisis will not go away on its own. As elected officials, we must take action so that our cities can continue to be the foundation of our country, and that action must come from a coordinated effort involving every level of government” said National League of Cities (NLC) First Vice President Karen Freeman-Wilson, mayor of Gary, Indiana. “If funding continues to stall at the state and federal levels instead of being fully dispersed to America’s most effected cities, we are just treading water.”

The briefing follows Congressional passage of the SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act, a comprehensive bipartisan effort to improve the way our nation combats the opioid crisis. At the briefing, local leaders said that while this federal legislation was a nice step, it simply did not go far enough. Local governments have been developing programs to address substance abuse disorders in their communities, but many cities and local elected officials feel that they alone lack the tools and resources to produce a long-lasting response.

“As mayors, we are at the center of the opioid epidemic and we play a critical role in connecting the dots between community services and those who need help,”said Steve Williams, mayor of Huntington, West Virginia. “In Huntington, we have developed a holistic approach that brings all of our community’s resources to the table. However, this approach also requires partnerships at the federal level. That means increasing federal funding to combat this scourge and cutting a clearer path for cities to access that funding.”

“Simply put, we need Congress and the president to prioritize the fight against the heroin and opioid epidemic,” said Madeline Rogero, mayor of Knoxville, Tennessee. “Our federal leaders must coordinate with local partners on resource allocation and what the most effective programs and policies to put into place are. Cities must remain hopeful and innovative – our nation is strongest when we work together to find long-term solutions.”

NLC hosted a Mayors’ Institute on opioids in May and released a report emphasizing state and local strategies to address and mitigate this crisis. Next month, thousands of city leaders will convene in Los Angeles, California, for NLC’s annual City Summit conference, which will feature several working sessions exploring policies and programs to mitigate the spread of the opioid epidemic.

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