Browsing the blog archivesfor the day Tuesday, February 6th, 2018.


The Trump Administration’s Opioid “Policy” Is a Bad Joke

Trump Maladministration

Well, strictly speaking, Trump doesn’t seem to have an opioid policy. He made big promises to address the opioid crisis on the campaign trail. But as president the drug problem has slipped his mind. Last October he directed the Department of Health and Human Services to declare the opioid crisis a public health emergency, which seemed to indicate he was about to do something

“No part of our society — not young or old, rich or poor, urban or rural — has been spared this plague of drug addiction and this horrible, horrible situation that’s taken place with opioids,” Mr. Trump said during an elaborate and emotional ceremony in the East Room of the White House, attended by families affected by opioid abuse, members of Congress and administration officials. “This epidemic is a national health emergency.”

To combat the epidemic, the president said the government would produce “really tough, really big, really great advertising” aimed at persuading Americans not to start using opioids in the first place, seeming to hark back to the “Just Say No” antidrug campaign led by Nancy Reagan in the 1980s.

“This was an idea that I had, where if we can teach young people not to take drugs,” Mr. Trump said, “it’s really, really easy not to take them.” He shared the story of his brother Fred, who he said had struggled with alcohol addiction throughout his life and implored Mr. Trump never to take a drink — advice the president said he had heeded.

“We are going to overcome addiction in America,” the president said.

That’s about as much of a drug policy as we’ve seen so far. There was no follow up even to that much. Brianna Ehley wrote for Politico in last month,

President Donald Trump in October promised to “liberate” Americans from the “scourge of addiction,” officially declaring a 90-day public health emergency that would urgently mobilize the federal government to tackle the opioid epidemic.

That declaration runs out on Jan. 23, and beyond drawing more attention to the crisis, virtually nothing of consequence has been done.

Today we read that Kellyanne Conway is sabotaging what little was being done to address the crisis. Brianna Ehley and Sarah Karlin-Smith write,

President Donald Trump’s war on opioids is beginning to look more like a war on his drug policy office.

White House counselor Kellyanne Conway has taken control of the opioids agenda, quietly freezing out drug policy professionals and relying instead on political staff to address a lethal crisis claiming about 175 lives a day. The main response so far has been to call for a border wall and to promise a “just say no” campaign.

Trump is expected to propose massive cuts this month to the “drug czar” office, just as he attempted in last year’s budget before backing off. He hasn’t named a permanent director for the office, and the chief of staff was sacked in December. For months, the office’s top political appointee was a 24-year-old Trump campaign staffer with no relevant qualifications. Its senior leadership consists of a skeleton crew of three political appointees, down from nine a year ago.

“It’s fair to say the ONDCP has pretty much been systematically excluded from key decisions about opioids and the strategy moving forward,” said a former Trump administration staffer, using shorthand for the Office of National Drug Control Policy, which has steered federal drug policy since the Reagan years.

The office’s acting director, Rich Baum, who had served in the office for decades before Trump tapped him as the temporary leader, has not been invited to Conway’s opioid cabinet meetings, according to his close associates.

See also  Eric Levitz at New York magazine, “Trump Has Given Victims of the Opioid Crisis Nothing But Contempt“; Jeremy Binckes, “Trump administration gives up on being serious about the opioid crisis“; Denis Slattery and Christopher Brennan, “Kellyanne Conway opts for Trump cabinet members over drug policy experts for opioid epidemic meetings: report.

Levitz writes,

The year Donald Trump was elected president, drug overdoses killed 63,600 Americans. That was 21 percent more drug deaths than America had seen in 2015, which had been the worst year for such fatalities in our nation’s history. It was also more unnatural deaths than gun violence, HIV/AIDS, or car accidents had ever caused in the United States in a single year. The scale of devastation wrought by the opioid epidemic was so vast, life expectancy in the United States fell for the second consecutive year — the first time that had happened since the early 1960s.

The epidemic’s body count was almost certainly higher in 2017, according to preliminary data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If the use of synthetic opioids like fentanyl continues to grow at its current rate, Stat News forecasts that more than 650,000 Americans will die from drug overdoses over the next decade — which is to say, slightly more than one would expect to perish if a foreign military power incinerated the entire city of Baltimore.

And yet, in his first State of the Union address, Trump did not offer a single concrete policy proposal for combating this “public health emergency.” Instead, he promised to get “much tougher on drug dealers and pushers”; “get treatment for those in need”; and pass restrictive immigration reforms — asserting, without evidence, that building a border wall and ending “chain migration” would “support our response to the terrible crisis of opioid and drug addiction.”

So, about addressing the opioid crisis … never mind.

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