Trump Promises To 'Slow Down And Ultimately Stop' Drug Epidemic

By Keri Blakinger 03/02/17

The president laid the bulk of the blame on a lack of border protection.

POTUS, VP Mike Pence and Speaker Paul Ryan
Photo via YouTube

In a notably even-keeled first joint address to Congress, President Donald Trump vowed again to end the nationwide opioid epidemic—with the help of his controversial border wall. 

Tuesday evening’s speech touched on many of the same themes Trump hammered home on the campaign trail, although now those promises came in a more measured tone. In keeping with his familiar “America First” foreign policy mantra, the president blamed the drug crisis on immigration.

“We've defended the borders of other nations, while leaving our own borders wide open, for anyone to cross—and for drugs to pour in at a now unprecedented rate,” he said.

But he repeatedly promised to fix the problem. “Our terrible drug epidemic will slow down and ultimately, stop,” he said. “And our neglected inner cities will see a rebirth of hope, safety, and opportunity.”

A few minutes later, he reiterated the point and offered a solution. “We will stop the drugs from pouring into our country and poisoning our youth—and we will expand treatment for those who have become so badly addicted,” he said.

He did not offer specifics as to what expanded treatment options would look like, especially in light of his longstanding plans to dismantle the Affordable Care Act. But the specifics of his scheme to stop the flow of drugs are by now quite familiar: build a wall. 

“We will soon begin the construction of a great wall along our southern border,” he told the crowd of Beltway politicians. “It will be started ahead of schedule and, when finished, it will be a very effective weapon against drugs and crime.

“As we speak, we are removing gang members, drug dealers and criminals that threaten our communities and prey on our citizens. Bad ones are going out as I speak tonight and as I have promised,” he said. 

Experts still say it’s not clear that a border wall would diminish the nation’s illicit drug supply or make a dent in the current opioid crisis. 

“It’s very simple business economics that you’re not going to stop a commodity like that by building a wall,” Peter Andreas, a Brown University political science professor and author of Smuggler Nation: How Illicit Trade Made America told Vox. “The drugs can come under the wall, they can come over the wall, and they can come around the wall.”

Indeed, earlier this year enterprising drug smugglers made national headlines by attaching a weed catapult to the current border wall and attempting to toss 47 pounds of the green stuff stateside. Traffickers have also tried driving over the wall, employing drug drones and disguising weed as various fruits and vegetables to send across the border.

But of course, a significant component of the current drug epidemic isn’t coming from abroad; the abuse of prescription painkillers is a problem made in America. 

“I’m assuming he’s saying his wall is going to solve all sorts of problems simply because that sounds good politically,” Andreas said. “It’s a simple, clear political sound bite. But a wall—the least effective thing it’s going to be for is stopping drug smuggling.”

Check out the full speech starting at the 32:00 minute mark below:

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Keri Blakinger is a former drug user and current reporter living in Texas. She covers breaking news for the Houston Chronicle and previously worked for the New York Daily News and the Ithaca Times. She has written about drugs and criminal justice for the Washington Post, Salon, Quartz and more. She loves dogs and is not impressed by rodeo food. Find Keri on LinkedIn and Twitter.