In October 2017, Tina Nguyen of Vanity Fair reported on the opioid crisis sweeping the United States. Pursuing a sober life in recovery, we at Whole Families know that our communities need to do more than “just say no.” It is truth-seekers like Tina who help bring these issues to light and give them the urgency they deserve. We’ve included much of her report below. May we all seek and spread the truth.
In 2016, more Americans died of drug overdoses than were killed in the Vietnam War. The horrific opioid epidemic sweeping the nation has reached its peak under Donald Trump. Instead of declaring the epidemic a national disaster, which would’ve unlocked access to billions in FEMA relief funding—the kind of money that experts suggest is needed to address the largest public health crisis in decades—the president declared a nationwide public health emergency. The Public Health Emergency Fund contains just $57,000—a mind-boggling disparity that may be the starkest illustration of the woeful inadequacy of the Trump administration’s plan.
As a whole, the plan carries unmistakable echoes of the “Just Say No,” campaign that was instituted during the War on Drugs in the 1980s, but which had no discernible impact. As Trump put it, it will rely on “really tough, really big, really great advertising” aimed at dissuading Americans from using opioids at all. “This was an idea that I had, where if we can teach young people not to take drugs, it’s really, really easy not to take them,” [the president said], referencing the way his late alcoholic brother, Fred Trump, had implored Trump to never drink. But experts immediately pointed out that opioid addiction—which often begins with a doctor prescribing painkillers to patients—would not be effectively addressed by ads. “I can tell you, my son did not decide that he wanted to become addicted, much less die,” Jim Hood, a founder and C.E.O. of Facing Addiction, told The New York Times.
To the objections even of those on the president’s opioid commission, who had pushed Trump to declare a national disaster, the rest of Trump’s plan is shot through with the conservative-leaning politics of personal responsibility. While the plan emphasizes training for federally funded prescribers and an expansion of telemedicine services to underserved rural communities, it does not expand health-insurance coverage or increase federal funding for medication-assistant treatment (MAT) plans.
If anything, the White House’s broader budget priorities would actually make the opioid crisis worse. Currently, Medicaid pays for roughly half the costs of addiction treatment in states where the opioid crisis has landed the hardest, yet Medicaid is often the first thing Republicans slash when they begin looking for subsidies to cut. Trump himself recently cut cost-sharing reduction subsidies that were aimed at helping low-income Americans—many of them his own voters—afford out-of-pocket medical payments. And while Trump said Thursday that he would suspend a rule preventing Medicaid funds from being used at drug rehabilitation centers, current Republican plans to repeal and replace Obamacare, put forward by the House and Senate, would cut Medicaid by about $800 billion.
Ironically, it will be Trump’s own voter base that suffers from his shortsightedness. Studies have found that people who voted for Trump live in areas that have been hit particularly hard by the crisis: rural America, the Rust Belt, and places in the South that straddle the two. In fact, the two are so closely correlated that Shannon Monnat, an assistant professor at Penn State University, told NPR that places, where Trump performed more strongly on election night than expected, were states that “have seen major upticks in drug overdoses and other deaths of despair over the past decade.”