In October, the Trump Administration declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency but lacked a detailed plan to address this emergency.
In a speech this week in Cincinnati, Trump dismissed the notion of a comprehensive plan to treat the opioid epidemic, instead reducing spending on treatment to refocus on criminal prosecution.
“People form blue ribbon committees. They do everything they can. And frankly, I have a different take on it,” said Trump. “My take is you have to get really, really tough, really mean with the drug pushers and the drug dealers.”
One of the only bits of advice from a blue ribbon commission that the Trump Administration itself convened last year was to put together a campaign to warn young people about the dangers of opioids, run not by the Office of National Drug Control Policy but by Kellyanne Conway.
If this focus on scaring young people and addressing a drug crisis through mass incarceration sounds familiar, it should. It’s directly out of Reagan’s playbook.
In the 1980s, a ‘War on Drugs’ became a major focus of the Reagan administration, and the primary tools of fighting that war were harsh mandatory minimum sentences, mass incarceration and the Drug Awareness and Resistance Education (DARE) program which brought police officers into elementary schools to threaten and scare students in fifth grade about drug use.
A short documentary video from music icon Jay-Z and acclaimed artist Molly Crabapple explored how the largely racially motivated war on drugs was a distraction from the economic policies of Reagan which overtly benefited the rich and further disadvantaged the poor.
Now, the war on drugs is being repeated as a war on opioids. Dealers of illicit opioids are being charged with the murders of those who overdose and doctors who are seen as over-prescribing may be charged with fraud.
These pages from the war on drugs playbook are not paired with compassionate treatment for the addicted, but rather drastic cuts in the funding of the Office of National Drug Control Policy which in the proposed 2018 budget loses 95 percent of its funding.
These tactics were attempted before and failed. The only measure by which the war on drugs could be seen as successful is that it has exploded the number of incarcerated Americans – 2.3 million are held behind bars as of 2017 and of those Time found that 25 percent are low-level nonviolent offenders. If the goal of the war on drugs was to lead the world in the number of incarcerated citizens, it was a smash success.
The war on drugs is considered on every other measure to be an unmitigated failure.
Despite this, that is exactly the policy being implemented now to deal with the opioid crisis.