OCTOBER 27th, 2017

As prepared for delivery. The speaker may add or subtract comments during his presentation.

Thank you for that lovely introduction.

And thank you all for joining us here on this special day.

Today we celebrate the achievements of the Helping Up Mission, and the new opportunities which lie ahead for the men who have stuck with this program.

We gather to hold up the success of this Mission, a sorely needed victory in our nation's ongoing struggle with addiction and drug abuse.

And we gather to celebrate an achievement for Baltimore, a city we all hold dear in our hearts.

I worked for many years at Johns Hopkins-one of the greatest medical institutions in the world, right here-and this city is dear to my heart. I have witnessed firsthand its struggles and ongoing renaissance, which would not be happening without organizations like the Helping Up Mission.

This Thursday, I joined the President at the White House for an important announcement, as he instructed the Department of Health and Human Services to designate the current opioid crisis in America a Public Health Emergency.

It is the deadliest drug epidemic in our history-and institutions like the Helping Up Mission will be instrumental in combatting it.

Every day, more than 140 Americans are lost to drug overdoses. Our preliminary estimates suggest that more than 60,000 of our countrymen died from drug overdoses in 2016.

To put that number in perspective, that is more fatalities than we suffered throughout the entire Vietnam War.

So this administration is taking decisive action. Both by aggressively bringing international drug cartels to justice, and by focusing on treatment and prevention back home.

The President's designation of a Public Health Emergency provides access to emergency funding to be used at state and federal levels. It also allows the redeployment of state and federal workers, at the request of a governor, to focus on the opioid crisis locally. All our agencies have been called to bring our combined resources to the fight.

I am honored to be a member of the Inter-agency task force dedicated to addressing the opioid crisis that is plaguing so many communities in our country.

As I think about my time in medicine, and our work against poverty at HUD, it is clear that the social problem of drugs is often split into two dimensions: that of health, and that of crime.

In the past, well-meaning public policies have often blurred those lines, treating the sick as criminals, when they need healing more than punishment, or treating criminals as victims, when they have made careers out of victimizing others.

To move forward, our society must recognize how tangled and tragic this web can be-and how it can trap the vicious and the victim alike. And how imperfectly we sometimes distinguish the two.

But we must also determine why this web exists in the first place.

Too many Americans are ensnared by drugs because they see no future to work toward.

Because they have been deprived of their livelihoods, or felt the bonds of family weaken.

Because they felt left behind, unneeded in their own nation.

These are challenges which go beyond health and crime and challenge the ability of our society to care for people in a holistic way.

To see them not just in need of money, but fulfillment-not just in need of physical comforts, but of spiritual ones-not just in need of neighborhoods to live in, but communities.

Not just housing, but homes.

Our country could use more organizations like the Helping Up Mission, which don't just give a "three hots and a cot," but also provide direction and purpose to someone who wants to get clean.

Because we cannot solve the drug problem in a vacuum. We must acknowledge that there are many reasons why someone might be tempted to escape the realities of their own life-so that we can start working to improve those realities, and make them worth living for.

Our President has said that "the forgotten men and women of America will be forgotten no longer"-and that's something we can all get behind.

Forget politics, forget division, forget the media: remember our countrymen who need our help.

That's what you do here every day.

And I'm proud to say, that's what the team at HUD does every day too: working to ensure that every American has access to safe, affordable housing.

This is a mission that often intersects with the fight against drugs.

Those who are in danger of losing their homes are often the same as those in danger of falling prey to addiction-or those who already have.

And men and women who are getting clean, and looking to stand on their own again, are most in need of shelter and affordable housing.

Again, it shows how interconnected these issues will always be.

Fortunately, we stand stronger than ever to tackle them.

Federal agencies are cooperating with state, local, and private partners, to relieve those affected by the drug crisis, and to stop the real bad guys-whether at home, or abroad-from introducing these terrible plagues into our towns.

The economy is improving, and unemployment is lower than it has been in a decade.

This doesn't just mean a more prosperous nation, but a more hopeful one. And a more hopeful society is less vulnerable to drugs and other destructive behaviors.

Finally, I would like to address the men who are reaching a milestone today.

You know better than anyone the sweat and tears, the work and prayer that went into the certificates you hold.

You know better than anyone the need to make the most of this new lease on life, this fresh beginning with so many possibilities.

So instead of preaching to you about these things, I will say:

Your determination inspires us all.

I only ask that you continue to show the strength that brought you to this day, as a light to those who are still bound by substance abuse, that many thousands of your fellow Americans may find hope and healing in your footsteps.

They need you.

God bless you all, and God bless America.

Thank you.


Content Archived: January 2, 2019