Ron Paul Charleston 2018

Former congressman Ron Paul discusses the need for libertarian ideas Sunday in Charleston. 

Former congressman Ron Paul said the real addiction Washington needs to tackle isn't the deadly opioid epidemic: it's the nation's dependence on spending money it doesn't have.

The three-time presidential candidate made the comment Sunday at a conference in downtown Charleston hosted by both the Future of Freedom Foundation and the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity. The topic was "Non-intervention: America’s Original Foreign Policy."

After lamenting whether he would see more like-minded libertarian lawmakers elected to office, the 82-year-old tore into the current Congress for its priorities.

"They're worried about opioid addiction. You want to really know about an addiction? It's the addiction of the American people to the U.S. Congress spending money, and they're addicted to deficit. That's the addiction that we have to attack," said Paul, a former 12-term Republican congressman from Texas.

Applause rose from the more than 200 attendees who showed up to hear his remarks at the Mills House hotel on Meeting Street. 

Paul said even though the libertarian and tea party wave has come and gone, he still believes the ideology is spreading.

"Liberty to some people is to have free health care and free food stamps and police the world and make sure the good guys win," Paul said. "But that's just the excuse. They want to play on the sympathies of the American people but more and more people are getting pretty upset."

On foreign policy, Paul pushed for America to focus on itself rather than the business of other nations.

"We're not nearly as great as a lot of people think we are because we're not leading in a proper manner," he said. 

One person Paul did express thanks for was U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford, R-Charleston, who spoke at the conference before Paul.

Sanford warned that America is sending conflicting messages with its foreign policy.

"We don't have intervention or non-intervention as a strategy. We've got politically-driven intervention as our strategy," Sanford said, saying such a strategy is confusing both friends and foes of the United States. "We're picking and choosing based on very different things."

After hearing both Sanford and Paul speak, 27-year-old Michael Verkaik described Paul as "an unsung hero."

But he also walked away a little disheartened that libertarian ideas aren't as popular as they once were.

Reach Caitlin Byrd at 843-937-5590 and follow her on Twitter @MaryCaitlinByrd.

Caitlin Byrd is a political reporter at The Post and Courier and author of the Palmetto Politics newsletter. Before moving to Charleston in 2016, her byline appeared in the Asheville Citizen-Times. To date, Byrd has won 17 awards for her work.