Trump Unveils New Opioid Plan; Health Leaders React

By Kelly Burch 03/20/18

Trump's plan focuses on prevention, law enforcement, funding treatment and reducing opioid prescriptions. 

Donald Trump

President Trump has boasted in the past that he knows what it would take to end the opioid epidemic that has claimed tens of thousands of lives across the country. In New Hampshire this week, he revealed that plan—focusing on abuse prevention, tightening prescription laws, and aggressively prosecuting drug dealers, even applying the death penalty. 

“If we don’t get tough on drug dealers, we are wasting our time, and that toughness includes the death penalty,” Trump said Monday in Manchester, New Hampshire, according to The Washington Post. “We have got to get tough. This isn’t about nice anymore.”

In addition to touting the death penalty, Trump called for legislation that would make it easier to apply mandatory minimums for fentanyl dealers and called for the building of a border wall between the U.S. and Mexico. However, critics said that his focus on law enforcement efforts will not address the roots of the opioid crisis. 

“A significant emphasis of the president’s speech and president’s plan was on supply reduction and law enforcement, including enhanced criminal penalties and even the death penalty,” said Michael Botticelli, executive director of the Grayken Center for Addiction at Boston Medical Center and the Recovery Czar under President Barack Obama. “I think that we have known throughout the recent history of the United States that has not solved our drug problem here in the United States.”

In order to prevent young people from using drugs, Trump said that the administration would run commercials highlighting the dangers of addiction. 

“That’s the least expensive thing we can do, where you scare them from ending up like the people in the commercials,” Trump said during his speech. “And we’ll make them very bad commercials; we’ll make them very unsavory situations.”

Trump’s plan for combating the opioid crisis also includes cutting opioid prescriptions by one-third nationally and creating a nationwide prescription-monitoring system, similar to those already in place in some states. In addition, the administration will release grants to fund treatment efforts.

“The plan contains some important steps that will increase access to effective, evidence-based treatment, particularly medication-assisted treatment for opioid addiction,” Chuck Ingoglia, senior vice president for public policy and practice improvement at the National Council for Behavioral Health, said in a statement. “However, these are just first steps, more needs to be done to increase community treatment capacity and recovery supports. Although grants are a great mechanism to spur innovation, we need continued, long-term funding that treats addiction like any other chronic illness.” 

Others criticized the plan for not being specific or innovative enough to make a difference in opioid death rates. 

“We need resources, not rhetoric,” Baltimore Health Commissioner Leana Wen said in a statement. “The President discussed funding today, but where are the resources for local jurisdictions hardest hit? Cities and counties have been fighting the opioid epidemic for years. We know what works, and any delay will cost further lives.”

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