President Barack Obama delivered his final State of the Union speech Tuesday night, putting forth a hopeful vision of the future while addressing the economy, national security, and strained political discourse.
Obama also touched upon a problem that hits close to home in the Bay State – prescription drug abuse.
Representative Richard Neal of Springfield says he's had conversations about prescription drug abuse with the White House, and was “delighted” that Obama addressed the issue as a bipartisan priority in his speech.
And, according to Neal, there's signs that bipartisan legislation could become a reality. Earlier this month, he and Senator Edward Markey held a screening of the HBO Documentary "Heroin: Cape Cod, U.S.A" for members of Congress.
Based on "the enthusiasm in the room the other night, when we were all standing shoulder to shoulder on the issue," Neal says, there could be "a potential bipartisan achievement in the coming year.”
Prescription drug abuse and substance abuse have become a growing trend all around the country. Massachusetts alone saw an unprecedented 1,256 opioid-related overdose deaths in 2014, and data suggests the numbers are only growing. Governor Charlie Baker and state lawmakers have responded with proposals to curb the prescription of opioid painkillers and more controversial suggestions to involuntarily commit and hold addicted patients in hospitals.
Neal predicts that this kind of state legislation to fight prescription drug abuse could become a model for federal policy to add more treatment centers, services and educational initiatives for addicted patients nationwide.
For that to happen, Congress needs to overcome the gridlock we've come to expect, says Neal. President Obama seems to agree - bipartisanship was a reoccurring theme his speech last night, when he said one of his biggest regrets was that he hasn’t been able to unify Congress.
Neal, who has served as a representative since 1988, says that despite popular belief, the issue of gridlock in Washington predates Obama, tracing back to the impeachment of President Bill Clinton, the failed nomination of John Tower for Secretary of Defense, and several Supreme Court battles in the 1980s and 90s.
“This has now been a three-decade-old problem,” Neal says, that’s only amplified by a 24-hour news cycle that emphasizes conflict.
But Neal says Obama struck the right tone with his approach Tuesday night – reminding both parties that compromise is the way forward: "seeking perfection is desirable, expecting the possible is more realistic.”