The Trump Administration’s recent opioid-related proposals make one thing clear: The epidemic continues to outpace the policies meant to lessen its hold on our communities. The President and his team have suggested and implemented several approaches meant to curb the crisis, but a strategy that focuses on enforcement rather than treatment is a misapplication of critical funding.
The President in March outlined a three-part plan that included stifling the flow of illicit drugs into the United States, a goal he hopes to reach by instituting harsher penalties and sentences for drug traffickers. Politico reported the plan his administration was quietly floating around the White House included seeking the death penalty for drug traffickers, a suggestion that was wholly denounced by public health experts. Besides the fact that the death penalty is shockingly arbitrary even in its current form, this particular iteration of the “tough on crime” approach is generally perceived by the academic community as ineffective.
One area the Administration has made progress in is increasing public awareness about the crisis. In April, the White House will host a temporary memorial in President’s Park dedicated to those lost to prescription opioid overdoses. The Administration also launched a website this month titled “The Crisis Next Door” that features video testimonies from individuals who have felt the opioid epidemic firsthand in their lives. Some of the accounts include Eric Bolling, a television personality and political commentator who lost his son to an overdose, and U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams, whose brother is incarcerated for crimes committed to support his lifelong opioid addiction.
At the top of the aforementioned Crisis Next Door website is the ominous headline: “President Donald J. Trump is Confronting an Opioid Crisis More Severe Than Original Expectations.”
Unfortunately, recent studies show the White House’s assessment is correct. Research conducted by the University of Virginia’s Christopher Ruhm discovered that opioid overdose-related deaths stack even higher than federal government estimates. Ruhm’s data suggests that due to a large variance in how independent coroners assess overdose deaths, the annual tallies of opioid overdoses in recent years are in reality 20 to 35 percent higher than estimates released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.