In tonight’s State of the Union, President Trump is widely expected to address his administration’s response to opioid addiction and overdose.
While Trump has repeatedly promised to prioritize opioid addiction and overdose, going so far as to declare a national public health emergency, his administration has failed to devote suitable resources to the problem. Funding for Trump’s public health emergency amounts to only 2 cents for each individual in the U.S. struggling with opioid addiction. Furthermore, the administration’s efforts to gut the ACA and restrict Medicaid will dramatically reduce access to effective treatment.
Evidence-based prevention, treatment, and harm reduction interventions can help to stem the tide of opioid overdose fatalities. The Drug Policy Alliance has detailed specific policy proposals in a recent report, Public Health and Safety Plan to Address Problematic Opioid Use and Overdose. The plan offers more than twenty policy proposals that, if implemented, will increase access to effective treatment, expand harm reduction services, prevent further opioid misuse, reduce the role of criminalization and lessen incarceration, and decrease racial disparities.
“Rather than helping people at risk of overdose and their families, Trump’s agenda seems to have been to stoke fear, spread disinformation, and further stigmatize entire populations—whether they be immigrants or people who use drugs,” Maria McFarland Sánchez-Moreno, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. “We know that harm reduction strategies and access to evidence-based treatment and prevention save lives, but that means that the administration needs to completely shift gears if it wants to make a difference.”
A critical piece of overdose response also has to address how criminalizing drug use drives people who use drugs underground, making it less likely they’ll access education, services, and treatment if they want it.
“Any meaningful plan to address opioid overdoses has to begin with recognizing how the war on drugs has itself contributed to the widespread lack of education about drugs, and poor access to overdose prevention and treatment, that set the stage for this crisis,” added Maria McFarland Sánchez-Moreno.
The administration has been escalating the war on drugs and embracing discredited policies proven to worsen both mass incarceration and the overdose crisis. President Trump has repeatedly expressed support for “strong law enforcement” approaches to dealing with drug addiction. In some of his remarks he has mentioned public health responses, including the need to increase access to treatment, but in practice he has done little to offer a public health response to the crisis.
Meanwhile, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has pursued a hardline agenda on drug policy. Harsh sentencing laws have already been in place for decades, and have proven wholly ineffective at reducing drug use and addiction, while having devastating effects on people of color and other marginalized communities.