Give the Trump administration a problem to solve and there is a good chance they will make it worse. The administration’s handling of the opioid epidemic exemplifies their incompetence. With a mix of mismanagement, ignorance, and neglect, Trump & Co have made America’s worst public health crisis seem more urgent, and more hopeless, than ever.
In October 2017, President Trump declared the opioid epidemic a public health emergency and promised to “liberate” Americans from the crisis which has caused tens of thousands of deaths. The emergency designation lasted 90 days, and expired in late January. No funds were allocated to the cause, and little was done to advance a strategy.
Kellyanne Conway, Trump’s former campaign manager whose background is in politics and polling, was designated “opioid czar.” She subsequently created an “opioid cabinet,” but she has failed to invite drug policy experts to key discussions. Former Rep. Patrick Kennedy of Rhode Island, a longtime advocate for addiction treatment, called the opioid cabinet “a sham.”
Conway has mostly stuck to President Trump’s script. She has advanced the laughable idea of a “just say no” advertising campaign and has attempted to connect the need for a border wall with the opioid crisis. (Trump has suggested in the past that opioids are manufactured in Mexico and China, and thus are an imported problem.)
Attorney General Jeff Sessions has also played his part in the opioid crisis imbroglio. Sessions, who once said “good people don’t smoke marijuana,” has recently launched an all-out war on weed, and has asserted that marijuana is a gateway drug to opioids. (Researchers have pointed to flaws in the argument that marijuana leads to harder drug use.)
Most recently, on Thursday morning, Jeff Sessions had the nerve to suggest that aspirin would be a good alternative for people suffering from opioid addiction. They should learn to “tough it out,” he recommended, offering an anecdote about Chief of Staff John Kelly refusing painkillers after hand surgery
Between Trump, Conway, and Sessions, the behavior of this administration leaves little confidence that a solution to the opioid crisis is emerging. On the contrary, it seems that their non-traditional operation style and penchant for misinformation is only making the problem more severe.