Moments ago, President Trump declared a public health emergency on the opioid overdose crisis. In a speech at the White House, Trump characterized the crisis as a “war” and outlined his administration’s plans to “defeat” it, including Reagan-era style “just say no” prevention campaigns and restrictions on opioid prescribing. He also touted drug courts, building a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico, and other punitive approaches as solutions.
Advocates expressed concern that Trump’s approach to drugs ignores the facts about the causes of the opioid overdose crisis, stigmatizes immigrants, and doubles down on policies that have already proven not only ineffective, but devastating for people across the United States, particularly among communities of color.
The following is a statement by Maria McFarland Sánchez-Moreno, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance:
“In the face of a devastating overdose crisis, President Donald Trump today made clear his strategy: to stick his head in the sand and point the finger at immigrants. While a couple of his proposals might help mitigate overdose, his speech today revealed a profound and reckless disregard for the realities about drugs and drug use in the United States. Trump seemed to be saying that prevention boils down to ads encouraging young people to “just say no” to drugs, ignoring the utter failure of that strategy when the Reagan administration started it in the 1980s. He made a big deal about completely taking a certain opioid off the market, even though the opioids involved in overdoses are mostly coming from the illicit market. He blamed immigrants for bringing drugs across the border, ignoring that immigrants are overwhelmingly more law-abiding than U.S. citizens, and that the illicit drug trade has always found ways to get around the walls and barriers the U.S. has put up to block it. He held up drug courts as a solution, ignoring all the evidence showing they do more harm than good. And he continued talking about criminal justice answers to a public health problem, even though the war on drugs is itself a major factor contributing to the overdose crisis. Trump had a chance to do something meaningful to help stem the tide of overdose deaths in the country; instead, he is condemning even more people to death, imprisonment, and deportation in the name of his war on drugs.”
Correction: An earlier version of the release said Trump could have pushed for greater access to naloxone and other health-based recommendations from his own opioid commission. He in fact made a passing reference to allowing first responders to use tools to reduce overdose deaths. That sentence was removed.