Kellyanne Conway on Stopping OD Deaths: Just Don't Do Drugs

By Paul Gaita 10/31/17

"The best way to stop people from dying from overdoses and drug abuse is by not starting in the first place," said the counselor to the president.

Kellyanne Conway
Kellyanne Conway Photo via Wikimedia/Gage Skidmore

White House Counselor Kellyanne Conway suggested that the best way to stop drug dependency and the epidemic of overdose deaths plaguing the United States is for individuals to not start using drugs.

Speaking on Fox News on October 26, Conway doubled down on similar statements made by President Donald Trump during a press conference earlier that day, in which he officially declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency. Citing alleged testimony from "many health-care providers and elected officials," Conway said that the "best way to stop people from dying from overdoses and drug abuse is by not starting in the first place."

In his speech, Trump said that in addition to the core efforts of the health emergency declaration—including the allocation of funds to approve treatment and working with the Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control to increase public awareness about prescription drugs—his administration, in conjunction with the National Institutes of Health, will launch a substantial advertising campaign to convince individuals and especially young people to "not want to take drugs in the first place."

Trump cited his brother, Fred Trump, Jr., who struggled with alcohol dependency before his death in 1981, as a primary influence on his decision to abstain from drinking. "[Fred] had a problem with alcohol, and he would tell me, 'Don't drink. Don't drink,'" said Trump—who, as a result, reportedly never touched alcohol or tobacco.

The proposed advertising campaign—described by Trump as "really tough, really big, really great"—would essentially put forward a similar message: "If we can teach young people—and people, generally—not to start [using drugs], it's really, really easy not to take them," said Trump.

Strategies such as these, including the "Just Say No" campaign initiated by Nancy Reagan during the early 1980s, have been cited as failures by academic and government researchers. The National Institutes of Health studied a national campaign launched in 1998 by the U.S. government to turn young people away from illegal drugs; but after six years and more than $1 billion spent on the campaign, the NIH found that the campaign had "no favorable effects on youths' behaviors," and in some cases, may have had a "boomerang" effect in encouraging some individuals to actually try drugs.

A similar analysis of the law enforcement-driven, school-based D.A.R.E. program found that the K-12 students who participated in its education efforts were just as likely to use drugs as those who did not take part.

Rolling Stone noted that despite its lack of success, D.A.R.E has made a comeback in several communities across the United States, and has been cited by Attorney General Jeff Sessions as an effective means of promoting abstinence from drugs. "We know it worked before and we can make it work again," he told the New York Daily News.

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.