John Oliver Takes Down Trump’s 'Underwhelming' Opioid Solution

By Paul Fuhr 11/03/17

“Trump's fix for our opioid epidemic essentially boils down to, ‘Here's two pennies. Go throw them in a f—ing mall fountain and wish your addiction away.’”

John Oliver
Photo via YouTube

On the latest episode of the HBO talk show Last Week Tonight, host John Oliver took aim at President Trump’s plan to solve nation’s opioid crisis.

Last week, Trump declared the epidemic a “public health emergency”—though Oliver observed that the announcement was notably short on specifics. Oliver condemned Trump’s plan as “underwhelming,” pointing out that the plan amounts to little more than an ad campaign encouraging Americans to not take drugs.

“It's really, really easy not to take [opioids],” Trump claimed at his press conference. “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 to stop before they start.”

Oliver’s five-minute takedown of the plan notes that “combating America’s opioid crisis was one of Trump’s central campaign promises”—a promise that the late-night host believes is nowhere close to being fulfilled.

“Sure, it is important not to start abusing opioids,” Oliver said, “but that doesn't really help the people who are already struggling with addiction. It's kind of like seeing someone neck-deep in quicksand and then putting up a 'don't do quicksand' sign.” He then likened Trump’s plan to Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” campaign. (One feature story on the 1980s-era awareness program called it “disastrous” and a “failure.”)

Anti-drug advertising simply doesn’t work, Oliver argued. While the talk-show host commended Trump for shining a spotlight on the problem, he also suggested that the president enjoyed sharing that same spotlight.

“The problem is, attention is pretty much all he’s giving [the opioid crisis],” Oliver said. “Because he didn’t put out a detailed strategy and his splashiest step, declaring it a public health emergency, doesn’t actually do very much.” 

The host also slammed Trump’s proposal to use funds drawn from the nation’s public health emergency fund. As confirmed by Forbes, the balance of the fund currently sits at roughly $57,000. It’s a figure that’s dwarfed by federal government estimates that the opioid crisis costs about $75 billion per year.

“Trump has finally chimed in with his two cents about how to tackle this crisis, and it involves allotting for the 2.6 million Americans addicted to opioids literally about two cents each,” Oliver said. “Trump's fix for our opioid epidemic essentially boils down to, ‘Here's two pennies. Go throw them in a fucking mall fountain and wish your addiction away.’”

And if the emergency fund is the only thing propping up Trump’s plan, Oliver isn’t wrong. Congress started the fund in 1983 with $30 million, but hasn’t added anything to it since 1993. Worse yet, there may be even less money to work with, if Trump’s 2018 federal budget is approved. (The proposed budget will slash billions from the CDC, FDA and NIH, among others.) Had Trump instead classified the opioid crisis as a national emergency, funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency might be freed up

And while Trump spoke about his brother’s alcoholism during his opioid-plan announcement, many Americans are done listening to leaders talk about the problem. “President Trump can call the opioid crisis whatever he wants. The most important thing will be how this declaration is implemented and how quickly he takes action,” Gary Mendell, CEO of the addiction nonprofit Shatterproof, told Forbes. “It will require laser-like, business execution by the Administration to take the necessary actions to save lives.”

Mendell agreed that while funding is crucial, improved CDC guidelines and better FDA labeling for opioids cost virtually nothing. Surely, Mendell suggests, a businessman like Trump should be able to recognize addiction’s deadly bottom line in America.

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Paul Fuhr lives in Columbus, Ohio with his family and two cats, Vesper and Dr. No. He's written for AfterParty MagazineThe Literary Review and The Live Oak Review, among others. He's also the host of "Drop the Needle," a podcast about music and addiction recovery. More at You can also find Paul on Linkedin and Twitter.