So… What Is Trump Doing About the Opioid Crisis?
The epidemic of prescription opioid addiction sweeping the nation — particularly in New England, the Midwest and Appalachia — regularly draws the attention of politicians and public reporting. Then-candidate Donald Trump used widespread drug addiction as a springboard during his 2016 campaign, promising to mobilize the full power of the government in combatting the crisis. However, it is now the tail-end of 2017, Trump is in office and woefully little aid has materialized.
The current pattern of drug addictions sweeping the country is the worst we have ever encountered: Powerful opioids, liberally prescribed as painkillers during the ‘90s, resulted in a vast number of chronic addictions across the nation. Many former prescription-users have found a cheaper and more accessible alternative to the pills once their prescriptions run out: heroin. This highly addictive substance, which also classifies as an opioid, affects similar stimuli in the brain.
The rise of synthetic heroin derivatives compounds the epidemic. Fentanyl, a drug that boasts the questionable attribute of being 50 times stronger than heroin, has been making its rounds in increasingly rural areas. Fentanyl is traditionally used as a knockout-level painkiller during surgery and for late-stage cancer patients. It is, as with most opioids, terribly addictive. Drugs like Fentanyl and heroin, as well as their traditional prescription counterparts, kill roughly 50 people every day.
The closest we came to direct recognition of the crisis was in October of this year, when President Trump declared the epidemic a health emergency. This classification, it turns out, is a mostly political characterization, and does little for those millions facing addiction. The devil is in the details, and by declaring the issue a health emergency, President Trump falls short of the federal emergency classification that unlocks additional funding and immediate government response.
Instead, our president has relied on his usual barrage of vague and grand invective, calling for a government advertising campaign so efficient it will prevent future generations from becoming involved with drugs. This, unfortunately, hails back to years of failed anti-drug policies the government seemed to have left behind. Policies aimed at convincing youth of the dangers of drug abuse are widely ineffective, experts argue.
To better understand the sweeping changes in Trump’s policy, it’s important to take a look back at his predecessor’s take on the epidemic.
Obama-Era Drug Policy
Obama’s drug policy departed from the preventive legislation of yesteryear and turned its focus to the active treatment of those already addicted. President Obama expanded the general drug-treatment framework, offering coverage to a wider range of addicted individuals. He also pumped funding by over $1 billion, voicing a clear and coherent policy of active care for those already addicted.
The National Drug Control Policy was a comprehensive, research-backed tome based on modern-day addiction science. Instead of treating addiction as a moral vice, as had been previous policy, it redefined addiction as a disease of the brain, a sickness to be treated as any other illness. This approach favored results over punitive, punishing legislation meant to demonize current addicts, and thus deter future generations.
This is not to say the policy avoided preventive measure entirely. Early intervention measures were expanded significantly, encouraging health care professionals to get involved before drug habits become full-blown addiction. Treating early-stage addiction and habitual use encourages a more natural path to rehabilitation and saves money on the programs necessary for that.
Finally, the policy also expanded coverage for those already diagnosed with addiction. Instead of threatening jail time for those caught using, the policy expanded health care coverage to include addiction as a sickness that receives insurance coverage, as with any other disease. The National Drug Control Policy notes that some 22 million Americans require medical attention for addiction, which only roughly 1 in 10 receive.
The New War on Drugs
However effective the Trump legislation may be, it carries some very questionable policy implications. The Trump-era drug protocol seems to suggest abandoning those already in the clutches of addiction, leaving the addiction to run its course. With tens of thousands of addiction-related deaths every year, perhaps this will not take long. Still, for those facing the treacherous climb to rehabilitation, youth-centered advertising will do nothing but serve as a sad reminder of past decisions.
This, when coupled with Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ “tough on drugs” rhetoric, seems to have transported us back several decades, toward policy similar to that found during the Reagan presidency. This all flies in the face of the common understanding that the war on drugs failed and we have moved on since then.
The Rewinding Path
Today’s drug policy has taken a sharp 180 and is now reliving the failed war on drugs. Instead of comprehensive, research-backed legislation and law, President Trump is rekindling the call for drug-related incarcerations, and focusing on rescuing the next generation using outdated policies. In the meantime, he has called the epidemic a health emergency but has not empowered federal government aid.
We seem primed for a long and difficult journey through the worst drug epidemic in the history of America.