WASHINGTON — Four years ago, on New Year’s Eve, U.S. Rep. David Trone (D-Md.) and his family suffered a loss that many families across the district he serves and the country would, sadly, likely find relatable.
During a recent interview with the Times-News, the congressman — a Democrat who was recently reelected for a second term representing Maryland’s Sixth Congressional District, which includes Allegany and Garrett counties — shared the story of the life and death of his nephew Ian Trone and reflected on how it has influenced his priorities in office.
No stranger to substance abuse
Before his nephew’s struggles, Trone and the rest of his family were no strangers to the effects of addiction. His father’s alcoholism when he was younger, Trone said, led to the loss of the family farm in Pennsylvania and ultimately to the dissolution of his parents’ marriage.
“There’s a history of that in the family,” Trone said of addiction. “I’ve seen it upstream with my dad, and then downstream with my nephew and a daughter.”
Ian was raised in Montgomery County, and was a year younger than his second daughter Julia, Trone said. The two cousins were close; Julia, who lives in North Carolina, has been in recovery for seven years now herself.
As he grew older, Ian began experimenting with drugs and alcohol, first with marijuana before he progressed into using harder drugs. Trone and his wife June assumed responsibility for trying to help Ian, he recalled. They spent “almost five years working with him through a host of different challenges,” Trone said, enrolling him in different forms of treatment ranging from 28-day programs to halfway houses and treatment for his underlying mental health concerns, depression and anxiety.
In those five years, Trone said, Ian was arrested five times — three times for shoplifting and twice for drugs. They helped him out then, as well. He ultimately moved to North Carolina for a fresh start.
“Over that five year journey, we had numerous unfortunate setbacks, but we had a lot of success, a lot of wonderful success,” Trone said. “We went almost 13 months where he was completely clean and had a job and an apartment that he shared.”
Around Christmastime 2016, the congressman recalled, Ian was doing so well that they decided he should come home for a visit for the holidays. When he returned to North Carolina, Trone said, Ian went to a bar and drank, beginning a chain of events that led to him overdosing on fentanyl and dying in a hotel room on New Year’s Eve days later.
Addiction, mental health ‘completely bipartisan’ problems
The challenges Ian and his other family members have faced were “one of the big motivations” behind his decision to seek office in 2016, Trone said. While in Congress, he has found that issues of both mental health and addiction are “completely bipartisan.”
“Addiction, mental illness, they don’t care if you’re an independent, Republican or Democrat, rich, Black, or white,” Trone said. “It doesn’t matter. We’ve all got skin in the game, and we’ve all got to work together.”
To that end, Trone started the Freshmen Working Group on Addiction, a bipartisan group of 63 U.S. representatives focused on improving policy and funding. The group put together 50 bills focused on mental health and addiction, two of which passed with unanimous votes recently, he said.
The way that the country’s existing drug and mental health problems have dovetailed with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic should alarm folks, Trone said. About 70% of folks struggling with addiction also have mental health conditions that can exacerbate the problem, he noted, and 71,000 people died from overdoses in 2019.
“COVID has led to addiction problems, addiction deaths, led to more suicides, led to more mental health and anxiety problems,” Trone said. “... That will be a long term problem for America. The work here in Congress is to help on both of these issues.”
In the weeks following Trone’s interview with the Times-News, the CDC announced that more than 81,000 overdose deaths occurred between May 2019 and May 2020, the largest single jump ever recorded in a 12-month period.