healthHealth and Medicine

Trump's Views On America's Opioid Crisis Are Completely Wrong – Here's Why


Robin Andrews

Science & Policy Writer

Trump, listening to experts and lawmakers talk about opioids, back in March. Nicholas Kamm/Afp/Getty Images

President Trump is, of course, always in the news – but right now, much of the focus comes down to his sabre-rattling with North Korea. It’s a bit like the Cuban Missile Crisis, but with two children with bruised egos and even more nuclear weapons than we had the first time around. So there’s definitely nothing to worry about there.

In the middle of all this insanity, however, it may have passed you by that Trump gave a speech on America’s opioid epidemic. It’s something that he has given the appearance of actually caring about, despite the fact that his party’s healthcare bills – all of which have failed – would have robbed tens of millions of the poorest Americans of treatment related to drug abuse.


The President, or someone on his staff, did commission a report on the state of the opioid crisis just recently. The findings, which are in line with plenty of other academic studies on the matter, are pretty shocking: 59,000 people died in 2016 by overdosing on opioids. That’s 150 per day, which has been compared to a 9-11 death toll every three weeks.

Things are grim, no doubt about that. Whether it’s heroin or painkillers or anything in between, this is nothing short of a national emergency, and to the commission’s credit, they recommended to the President that he declare just that – a state of emergency.

Notably, during his long-touted speech on the matter, he did not say this. Speaking on Tuesday at his New Jersey golf club – a slightly inappropriate location, but hey – the President said that the way to solve the opioid crisis is to boost law enforcement. There simply aren’t enough prosecutions these days, he said, implying that this is a criminal issue, not a health one.

Most significantly, Trump said that “If they don't start, they won't have a problem.”


There are major problems with this thought process. Drug addiction does have a criminal element, but data shows that it should be treated as a health problem – the addiction is the key issue here, not the access.

“A supply side approach to drugs has never worked,” Bill Piper, senior director for the Drug Policy Alliance, told CNN. “That is what has been tried for decades and it has failed for every drug it has applied to, including alcohol during Prohibition.”

“As long as there has been and demand for drugs, there will be a supply.”

Most people get access to opioids not through illegal means, but through their doctors. Painkillers are prescribed quite frequently for a range of conditions, and people underestimate how addictive they can be.


According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over half of all US opioid overdose deaths are due to prescription painkillers. Every day, 1,000 people are treated in emergency medical departments for misusing these drugs, and as many as a quarter of all people who receive these painkillers for non-cancer treatments struggle with addiction.

Clearly, law enforcement is not the primary concern here. The Republican Party is known for its focus on crime rather than care, though, and Trump – the self-anointed “law and order” President – is keen to boost his strongman image. That’s why he’s ignored the commission and, as usual, gone with rhetoric over fact.

At the golf club, Trump said, verbatim: “So if we can keep them from going on and maybe by talking to youth and telling them: No good, really bad for you in every way. But if they don't start, it will never be a problem.”

This isn’t what America needs from a commander-in-chief. It needs science, facts, and politicians happy to use them, not ignore them.


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