One year is apparently how long it takes for the Trump Administration to begin working on issues of national crisis. Wait, has any work actually been done? We have a plan, you probably know that much, but it doesn’t appear that any real action is being taken.
After announcing that Kellyanne Conway — esteemed drug expert of absolutely no experience — will be heading up efforts to reign in a drug epidemic that killed 64,000 Americans in 2016, the public wants to know “where’s the beef?”
Perhaps we can interest you in a rather tall border wall instead, America?
It might be a good thing that Trump is dragging his feet on the issue of drugs. After all, some of his policies could stand to be reviewed by people more experienced in combatting illicit drug use. He’s proposed to stop the flow of drugs into America by implementing a death penalty for nearly anyone caught selling heroin.
It’s a page right out of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s book. But Duterte’s efforts have been condemned by the global community as authoritarian and even fascist. The bloody drug raids Duterte has instituted have killed over 12,000 “suspected drug users and dealers,” and police are shooting people in the streets like vigilantes.
This type of thing might fly in Trump's machismo-fueled fantasy, but America won't stand for it. How about some real solutions for people addicted to opioids the US government helped make widely available? That seems a more reasonable request given the fact that most addicts attempt to cooperate inside of society — many of them would never have used in the first place if not for the Purdue Pharma OxyContin scandal.
A significant portion of these addicts are not people who sell drugs for a living, or even unemployed. 71% of U.S. employers say they have been affected in some way by employee misuse of legally prescribed medications, including opioids. It is clear that these are average working citizens who unknowingly got caught up in the American drug epidemic without intending to.
Some of Trump’s proposed plan would offer support, except that as of now, absolutely nothing has happened. Increased access to Naloxone, for example, an agent known to stop overdose from the increasingly common fentanyl-laced heroin now flooding American streets, is part of the plan.
But there’s no money allocated to pay for the Naloxone, and the plan falls short of making other addiction treatments like naltrexone available. Treatment should be at the center of this plan, not an afterthought.
The plan specifies that Medicaid and Medicare — organizations that Trump slashed funding for in 2017 — would be responsible for reimbursing 75% of opioid treatment prescriptions. Those prescriptions need to satisfy a set of “best practices” that Conway’s team are expected to release at a later date. Conway, however, is reportedly making no attempt to work with the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP).
The ONDCP was established during the Reagan era, another dark time for drug control in America’s history. However, the organization has evolved with the different administrations that followed Regan, and its acting director, Rich Baum has decades of experience. Baum has not been invited to any of Conway’s opioid cabinet meetings.
It was expected that Trump would act to place a permanent director at the head of the ONDCP after the chief of staff was dismissed in December. However, the only appointee to the office has been a 24-year-old campaign staffer without any qualifications to speak of. Currently, the office consists of three people. A year ago there were nine. Trump's war on opioids is beginning to look more like another one of his firing frenzies clothed in different colors.
Posturing. That’s really all we’ve seen from Conway’s “drug cabinet” and Trump’s promise to make the opioid epidemic a national emergency. The plan proposed in February even goes as far as to suggest we use “really tough, really big, really great advertising,” or in the words of attorney general Jeff Sessions, “People should say ‘no’ to drug use.” Wowza!
People should say no to a third slice of pizza. They should say no to the sports car they can’t afford. Saying no to addiction doesn’t work — that’s why they call it addiction. As long as America is operating with a budget of less than $60,000 in the Public Health Emergency fund, all that we’re saying no to is getting better. And that’s as close to “junkie behavior” as it gets, America.