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BYU Public Health students go to Washington to study CARE Act

Ten students from BYU’s College of Life Sciences flew to Washington, D.C., to visit with legislators and their staff about the controversial Comprehensive Addiction Resources Emergency Act (CARE Act).

Dr. Barnes and Public Health students pose for photo on the steps of the Capital Building.

Associate Dean Michael Barnes takes public health students interested in health advocacy and legislation to Washington each fall. For the 2019 trip, students met with legislative staff members to discuss the opioid crisis.

The CARE Act carries with it a surprising amount of division, said public health student Jasmin LaLuz. It ambitiously promises billions of dollars to help people who are recovering from opioid addiction, which makes many politicians wary about the act’s possible effect on the economy. But supporters of the bill suggest that the country could save billions in the long run.

Students also attended the Society for Public Health Education Conference while in Washington. “As the conference went on, we learned more about [the bill], and . . . actually, this is not that ambitious at all. It’s, I think, feasible for the United States,” LaLuz said.

LaLuz also mentioned that the opioid epidemic has affected many politicians in both parties in a personal way, so concern for the issue isn’t necessarily partisan. Ted Cruz and others have supported funding for research into opioid alternatives and addiction prevention in the past. Studying the senators during the conference was key, she said, in order for the students to advocate effectively for the bill.

Jasmin LaLuz and classmates outside of the office of Senator Ted Cruz
Jasmin LaLuz and other Public Health students

According to Brittney Graff, another undergraduate who traveled to the capital, the CARE Act (as written) addresses more of the treatment side than the preventative side of addiction recovery. “The act itself can have good purposes, but it’s all in the way it’s written. . . . I thought it was a good thing that they were trying to do [with this bill], but the way they were going about it maybe wasn’t the most realistic,”she said.

Even though the bill is still struggling to pass, public health students at BYU recognize how important legislation is in solving crises like the opioid epidemic.

For Graff, the invitation to visit with policy makers was a golden opportunity. “I really am interested in doing health policy and healthy advocacy work. . . . Actually being in D.C.and being in that whole environment was so exhilarating for me.”

Jessie Lew and Brittney Graff on the steps of the US Supreme Court Building
Jessie Lew and Brittney Graff

Fellow student Jessie Lew said she really enjoyed the experience. She plans to become a registered nurse but said, “Later on in life, I would love to continue all of my public health work.” With a minor in nonprofit management, she’s hoping to continue her public health work in nonprofit health advocacy.