Trump and the Opioid Crisis

President Donald J. Trump speaks with Secretary of Defense James Mattis and other senior leaders of the armed forces at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., Jan. 27, 2017. (DOD photo by U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Jette Carr)



Countless news stories discuss Donald Trump, the president of the United States. Many other stories discuss opioid abuse and addiction in the United States. Still other stories discuss both Trump and the opioid crisis.

In short, we have a lot of information about Trump and the opioid crisis. While both are certainly complex topics, discussing them can help us understand them a little better.


The Opioid Epidemic in America

Many journalists and politicians have stated that there is an opioid epidemic in the United States. What does this mean?

Opioids (sometimes known as opiates) are a class of drugs that doctors use to treat pain. Opioids include drugs such as morphine, codeine, oxycodone (known often as the brand name OxyContin), fentanyl, carfentanil, hydrocodone, and Norco and Vicodin (brand names for drugs that are a combination of the opioid hydrocodone and acetaminophen). These opioids are legal with doctors’ prescriptions, while heroin, another opioid, is illegal.

Pharmaceutical companies heavily promoted opioids in the 1990s and 2000s and doctors often prescribed the drugs during this time. “Sales of prescription opioids in the U.S. nearly quadrupled from 1999 to 2014, but there has not been an overall change in the amount of pain Americans report,” claimed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

More opioid prescriptions also meant that more people used the drugs. But, unfortunately, opioid drugs can be highly addictive. People can easily become tolerant to opioids and require more of them to feel their effects. They might take more and more prescription opioids because they’re dependent on the drugs, taking them not to feel good but so they don’t feel bad.


Opioid Abuse and Addiction

But, there is only a limited amount of drugs in an opioid prescription, or any prescription, for that matter. When the drugs run out, the users’ desire to use them might not end. The users often have to contend with their addictions to the opioids in addition to their desire to manage the pain they’ve been using the opioids for in the first place.

They might seek help from their doctors and pharmacists, but if doctors identify addictions in their patients, they obviously aren’t going to prescribe more drugs that might feed their patients’ addictions. To acquire more drugs, patients might try to engage in practices such as doctor shopping, a practice where patients visit multiple doctors to try to obtain drugs. People desperate for opioids might also steal drugs or buy drugs from dealers or pill mills, entities that use illegal prescriptions to sell huge amounts of drugs.

Desperate, opioid-addicted patients might also turn to heroin. A decade or two ago, this development might have sounded extreme, but recently, the use of heroin is increasingly common. Heroin is chemically similar to opioids, so using it produces the same kind of high.

Even though it is illegal, heroin is easier to obtain, because it involves meeting with dealers who don’t ask questions. Obtaining prescription opioids involves meeting with doctors and pharmacists and possibly interacting with insurance companies, all of whom ask questions and keep records. Heroin is also often less expensive than prescription opioids, so many people find it a cheaper and more accessible than the drugs they crave.


Politics and the Opioid Crisis

Higher opioid sales have meant higher numbers of opioid addicts in the United States. Politicians and the general public have wondered how to help them. The opinions and deeds of President Donald Trump and his administration have illustrated some of these questions and proposals.

Early in his administration, Trump assembled a task force to investigate opioid addiction. Headed by New Jersey governor Chris Christie, this task force recommended that the president declare the opioid epidemic a national state of emergency. Instead, in 2017, the administration declared that the crisis was a public health emergency.

Critics say that declaring a national state of emergency could have funneled more resources and funds into combating opioid addiction. Others praise the administration’s recognition of the severity of the nation’s drug problem.

There are other developments regarding Trump and the opioid crisis. The administration has also created other entities to investigate such addiction. In 2018, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the creation of the Prescription Interdiction & Litigation (PIL) Task Force, an effort that would provide federal assistance to local and state governments in their lawsuits against the companies that produce opioids. The effort would also investigate opioid manufacturers in other ways.

Other proposed anti-opioid measures from the Trump administration have focused more on punishing drug traffickers. In February 2018, the president proposed strong punishments for people who contribute to the drug problem. In a speech a month later, he suggested that building a wall on the border between the United States and the Mexico would block drugs from entering the United States. He said that airing antidrug commercials and imposing harsh antidrug penalties against drug dealers could prevent people from using drugs.

Many of the Trump administration’s programs seem to focus on prevention and punishment instead of treatment. This marks a continuation of other presidential administrations’ efforts to address drug addiction as a fight or as a war. As always, it will be interesting to see what will happen.