President Trump and wife, Melania, announced the administration’s efforts to fight opioid addiction with heartfelt speeches today.
President Trump declared the opioid epidemic a national health emergency, the right move given that opioid overdoses are the leading cause of deaths for Americans under aged 50. Women have been susceptible as women’s opioid-related deaths multiplied by 5 from 1999 to 2010 compared to 3.6 for men.
In speaking about the urgency and gravity of this opioid addiction, three things came to mind about how President Trump is approaching this crisis:
1. It’s Personal.
Melania Trump painted a picture of the human toll that this crisis has taken on babies, women, children, and families:
“We are here today because of your courage,” the first lady told the audience. “The opioid epidemic has affected more than 2 million Americans nationwide, and sadly the number continues to rise.… No state has been spared, and no demographic has been untouched.”
President Trump offered a surprising and view into how the darkness of his brother’s addiction shaped his life and how he could relate to those with addicted family members:
“I learned myself, I had a brother Fred, great guy, best looking guy, best personality, much better than mine, but he had a problem. He had a problem with alcohol. And he would tell me don't drink. Don't drink… But he really helped me. I had somebody that guided me. And he had a very, very, very tough life because of alcohol, believe me, very, very tough life.”
We often marvel at the images and videos on social media of couples hunched over in their cars or passed out on sidewalks with their children right beside them. The toll on those children and the babies born into this desperate situation is even more heartbreaking.
2. Be Practical.
President Trump wants to take aim at the demand for opioids. He had what felt like a Nancy Reagan moment in pitching a proposed massive ad campaign targeting kids to stop them from taking drugs:
“One of the things our administration will be doing is a massive advertising campaign to get people, especially children, not to want to take drugs in the first place, because they will see the devastation and the ruination it causes to people and people's lives.
… “The fact is if we can teach young people, and people generally, not to start, it's really, really easy not to take them. And I think that's going to end up being our most important thing. Really tough, really big, really great advertising. So we get to people before they start so they don't have to go through the problems of what people are going through.”
3. Make Bold Policy.
In declaring this a national health emergency, President Trump directed federal health officials to marshal federal and state resources on a number of solutions such as allowing patentients access to treatments through telemedicine, training professionals who prescribe opioids, and providing access to additional funding.
He also talked of other tactics this administration plans to employ such as going after deadly synthetic opioid drugs imported from other countries, making addiction treatment more readily available to those in prison, and pursuing “creative solutions” to help those who are addicted rather than just locking them up.
President Trump also announced a ground-breaking national public-private partnership to find an alternative non-addictive pain killers and new treatments for addiction and overdose.
President Trump ended an a defiantly positive note about the fight for a “drug-free society”:
“… Together we will face this challenge as a national family with conviction, with unity, and with a commitment to love and support our neighbors in times of dire need. Working together, we will defeat this opioid epidemic. It will be defeated. We will free our nation from the terrible affliction of drug abuse. And, yes, we will overcome addiction in America.”
What’s missing from the discussion of opioid addiction has been the role of government.
As Hadley Manning, explains in an IWF policy focus on opioids today, advocacy groups pressured health providers to more aggressively treat pain with medications. At the same time, government policies incentivized health providers to prescribe pain medication while programs like Medicaid and Medicare, often covered opioids, but not other pain-management treatments.
It’s time opioid addiction gets the national attention it deserves so that we can begin to tackle the problem. Today’s efforts are an important step towards that.