Trump: More Drug Arrests, Jail Time Will Curb Opioid Epidemic

By Kelly Burch 08/10/17

"It's a problem the likes of which we have never seen. Meanwhile, the overall drug prosecutions have gone down in recent years."

President Donald Trump

President Trump has declared the opioid crisis a national emergency.

"The opioid crisis is an emergency, and I’m saying officially, right now, it is an emergency," Trump said at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey. "It’s a national emergency. We’re going to spend a lot of time, a lot of effort and a lot of money on the opioid crisis."

Earlier this week, Trump called for a tougher law enforcement approach to fighting the drug crisis, but initially ignored a recommendation made by his own opioid commission. "We believe that, at this point, the resources that we need for the focus that we need to bring to bear to the opioid crisis, at this point can be addressed without the declaration of an emergency," Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price explained Tuesday.

The president’s answer to fighting addiction is to focus on more prosecutions and on preventing people from trying drugs in the first place—harking back to tactics from the height of the War on Drugs and “Just Say No” era. 

"It's a problem the likes of which we have never seen. Meanwhile, the overall drug prosecutions have gone down in recent years," Trump said Tuesday, before attacking the Obama administration for lowering the amount of federal drug offense prosecutions. 

"At the end of 2016, there were 23% fewer federal prosecutions than in 2011. So they looked at this surge and they let it go by," he said. "We're not letting it go by. The average sentence for a drug offender decreased 20% from 2009 to 2016.”

As for keeping people off drugs, Trump said it's really very simple: just say no. "The best way to prevent drug addiction and overdose is to prevent people from abusing drugs in the first place. If they don't start, they won't have a problem. If they do start, it's awfully tough to get off," said the president.

However, experts on addiction, recovery and drug policy pointed out that this approach was already exhausted throughout the 1980s and '90s, and hasn't done a very good job of preventing the current drug crisis. 

"A supply side approach to drugs has never worked," Bill Piper, senior director for the Drug Policy Alliance, told CNN. "That is what has been tried for decades and it has failed for every drug it has applied to, including alcohol during Prohibition. As long as there has been and demand for drugs, there will be a supply.”

He said that the president would be "better focusing on the treatment side of things,” adding that Trump's remarks make him “sound tough” but don’t actually help people who are touched by addiction. "It makes it look like they are doing something even when they are not," Piper said.

According to NBC News, the president's emergency declaration means that the White House would be able to direct federal funding to expand addiction treatment options and access to lifesaving drugs like the overdose antidote naloxone.

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.