Democratic congressional candidate Tracy Mitrano is placing pharmaceutical companies front and center in discussing the opioid addiction epidemic in the 23rd District.

“The illegal drug trade has been a scourge on American society for half a century now. The combination of the so-called ‘legal drug trade’ is lethal,” Mitrano said. “It is of the utmost importance that Congress stand behind efforts to end the illegal drug trade through robust law enforcement and the legal one by lawsuits against the big pharmaceutical companies who prioritized profit over people’s lives.”

In a conference call with reporters around the district, Mitrano said funds resulting from successful suits against pharmaceutical companies should be used to increase drug treatment opportunities for those affected.

“We do not have, either in quantity or quality, the treatment centers we need in the 23rd District,” she said. “[Drug companies] are responsible, so the money that comes from those cases should be earmarked directly into treatment. [But] I am not suggesting that we wait for those cases to be adjudicated to put in the treatment centers that we need.”

Mitrano also said more should be done to make sure people who are saved from an overdose by the administration of Narcan by law enforcement or EMS are funneled into treatment programs.

“It baffles me that we would have a society that would administer the drug, revive the person, and then walk away as if there isn’t an underlying problem,” she said.

Mitrano, while saying more law enforcement work is needed to get the problem under control, said she disagrees with efforts by her opponent, incumbent U.S. Rep. Tom Reed, R-Corning, to make the death penalty a possible sentence for drug sales.

“I understand the impulse for justice,” she said. “But giving drug traffickers the death penalty won’t save lives. Tom Reed seems to believe we can criminalize ourselves out of a public health emergency by executing drug dealers. In large part, he is scapegoating addicts to divert attention away from some of his most lucrative donors who bear responsibility in this crisis.”

Reed has twice introduced a bill that would impose life imprisonment or the death penalty for sales of opioids laced with fentanyl, a powerful drug linked to numerous overdose deaths, which users are often not aware they’re getting.

As for pharmaceutical company contributions, Reed has received donations from drug companies such as Pfizer and AstraZeneca through their political action committees. But those committees, like many others, donate to incumbents of both parties and to both parties’ national committees. Reed’s donors also include Ford and Toyota, banks and financial services companies, and local employers such as Siemens and Corning Inc.

Mitrano said since 2007, opioid-related deaths have increased in one county, Tompkins, by 1,000 percent.

“These numbers break my heart,” Mitrano said. “Behind them lies somebody’s child -- somebody’s parent, sister or brother. It is a public policy issue that demands immediate attention from every level of government.”