Trump Appointee Thinks Tattoos May Be Linked To Drug Addiction

By Britni de la Cretaz 03/28/17

The healthcare appointee shared his views on drug addiction, marijuana, goth kids and drug-testing teens in a parenting book.

Dr. John Fleming
Dr. John Fleming Photo via YouTube

A new Trump appointee has some interesting views on addiction.

Last week, it was announced that John Fleming, MD, had accepted a job as deputy assistant secretary for health technology within the Department of Health and Human Services.

Fleming's job is to find ways of improving how physicians use technology to practice medicine. Fleming is a former doctor who served four terms in the House of Representatives before his failed campaign for Senate last year. He’s also the author of a 2006 book called Preventing Addiction: What Parents Must Know To Immunize Their Kids Against Drug and Alcohol Addiction.

In addition to counseling parents about how to prevent addiction in their children, he is a parent who has experience with navigating the issue with his own kids. He touts his parenting philosophy as one that has allowed him and his wife to raise “addiction-free children.”

He says that when his son was 16, he came home intoxicated. “Well for two years after that, until he went off to college, every afternoon that he came home from seeing his friends, he very dutifully blew into the breathalyzer, and every time it gave me double zeros,” Fleming explained on the Wise Counsel podcast. “He never had any problems, never had any DUIs, and never had any accidents.”

However, Fleming goes onto say that, “Believe it or not, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Psychological Association have come out against the use of home breathalyzer and drug testing.” But that as a father, he can “say without hesitation that these sorts of techniques were … important and helpful.”

Fleming uses his own opinion in this way throughout his book, regardless of what research says. “When kids cross the line into pot use, they are crossing the line, figuratively and literally, toward a life of illegal drug use and probable addiction,” he writes. However, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) says that the majority of people who use marijuana do not go on to use other, "harder" substances. 

Fleming saves his real concern for “goths” and “punks” and people with tattoos. “Body art comes into play in drug addiction as well, although obviously, not all who have a tattoo are addicts. A sailor who gets a single tattoo on his arm or an adult woman who has a small butterfly tattooed on her lower abdomen are not necessarily drug addicts or even rebellious — just dumb, at least temporarily!” he muses.

He then goes on to warn parents, “When you see that your child has become interested in body art or has a fascination with the Goth or other subculture, then be on alert, because your child is likely headed into rebellion and possible drug experimentation.”

Another theory about “goths” and tattoos in Fleming’s book: “Kids who seek a more substantial expression through body art do tend to get involved in drugs.” (He says the connection between body modification and drug use is “rebellion.”) However, he takes pains to clarify that “not all Goths are drug addicts, but a high percentage experiment with all types of drugs, including hallucinogens.”

There is no research to back up these claims; they appear to be based on nothing but Fleming’s own ideas and speculation.

Finally, Fleming cautions people not to buy into “stereotypes” about drug users. “Our stereotype of an addict was that of an unkempt, homeless tramp walking to city streets looking for dope, or perhaps a saxophone player who would inject heroin into his veins prior to playing all night in a smoky nightclub.” Now, he cautions, “drug addicts look much like you and I.”

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Britni de la Cretaz is a freelance writer, baseball enthusiast, and recovered alcoholic living in Boston. Follow her on Twitter at @britnidlc.