IOP Speaker Series Talk Explores Government’s Role in Opioid Crisis

The IOP event featuring National Drug Control Policy Director Rahul Gupta, U.S. Representative Angie Craig, and Denver District Attorney Beth McCann highlighted the importance of naloxone access, education campaigns, and bipartisanship.


The Institute of Politics building.

By Naina Purushothaman

National Drug Control Policy Director Rahul Gupta, U.S. Representative Angie Craig (D-MN), and Denver District Attorney Beth McCann discussed what the government is doing and can do to mitigate the opioid crisis during an Institute of Politics (IOP) event in Ida Noyes Hall on April 4.

Titled “The Opioid Crisis Redux: What Can and Is Government Doing,” the event was the latest installment in the IOP’s Speaker Series, a program of events dedicated to providing students and the general public with the insights of figures in politics, journalism, and public service. Pulitzer Prize–winning reporter Eric Eyre moderated the talk.

The event began with initial remarks by Gupta, who was nominated to his current position by President Joe Biden in 2021. Gupta is dedicated to expanding access to naloxone, a medicine that reverses opioid overdoses. Sold under the brand names Narcan and Evzio, naloxone was approved for over-the-counter use on March 29.

“We’ve lost more than 100,000 people last year,” Gupta said. “These are your family, friends, neighbors, teachers.”

Gupta attributes the sharp rise in opioid-related deaths to the increasing prevalence of synthetic drugs such as fentanyl. “Now all you need is a small place like a closet and the imagination of a chemist, and you can create some of the most deadly but profitable substances on the face of this earth,” Gupta said.

McCann provided a legal perspective on this crisis, explaining that her office has been shifting its approach in addressing addiction-related crimes. “We have established a program…[focused on] harm reduction, where we are getting these folks into more of a treatment modality rather than the traditional prosecution route, because we understand that addiction is very difficult to break,” she said.

McCann also emphasized the importance of public education campaigns. She said: “[Denver’s] usage of fentanyl seems to be going down a little bit now, and I think part of that is the public education campaigns that people are conducting and also the use of naloxone and fentanyl testing strips which we now have available in our schools.”

Craig, who serves on the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Health, co-sponsored the bipartisan END FENTANYL Act, which was reintroduced in March.

“What surprised me the most was just how political my colleagues have made what isn’t a political issue at all,” Craig said. “The cartel does not care as they sell these pills whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican.”

The full recorded event can be accessed through the IOP YouTube channel.