Sen. Cotton suggests links between disability benefits, heroin addiction


Republican Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas is suggesting there is a correlation between those who receive Social Security disability benefits and drug addiction.

During a speech at the conservative Heritage Foundation on Monday, the lawmaker said “It’s hard to say what came first or caused the other—population decline or increased disability usage [in several Appalachian counties]. Or maybe economic stagnation caused both.” Either way, Cotton argued, there seems to be what he called a “disability tipping point” – when such benefits become a norm instead of a last-resort safety net program.

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“Population continues to fall and a downward spiral kicks in, driving once-thriving communities into further decline,” Cotton continued. “Not only that, but once this kind of spiral begins, communities could begin to suffer other social plagues as well, such as heroin or meth addiction and associated crime.”

The senator’s remarks come as lawmakers—particularly 2016 presidential candidates—talk about heroin addiction, which is increasingly affecting whites and the middle class. The White House has also announced a strategy to tackle the problem. Experts, perhaps unsurprisingly, aren’t pointing to Social Security disability benefits as the reason behind the surge. Rather, they point to a myriad of factors, including prescription drug use, and as Salon notes, failures in law enforcement and the U.S. health care system.

Cotton isn’t the only legislator connecting public benefits to heroin. Republican presidential candidate Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky recently drew a parallel between free college tuition and the drug.