The Opioid Epidemic Was Declared a National Emergency: Now What?
President Trump declared opiate addiction in the U.S. a national emergency in late October 2017. In fact, he declared opiates a, “State of National Public Health Emergency.” This label does not get thrown around much, and for it to be attached to something drug-related is unprecedented.
Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price of the White House feels strongly about addressing opiates, and he said so in his commentary on Trump’s opioid proclamation. According to Mr. Price:
“With approximately 142 Americans dying every day, America is enduring a death toll equal to September 11th every three weeks.”
“When you have the capacity of the Yankee Stadium or Dodger Stadium dying every single year in this nation, that's a crisis that has to be given incredible attention, and the president is giving it that attention. With approximately 142 Americans dying every day, America is enduring a death toll equal to September 11th every three weeks.”
The problem is, only one in ten people who suffer from an opioid addiction ever gain access to proper treatment at an inpatient facility, and that has a lot of people very worried. In fact, it has a lot of us asking, “Now what?”
White House Recommendations
Right after the State of National Public Health Emergency was declared, the White House provided the Trump Administration with several avenues that opioid addiction could be addressed in:
- Increasing funding for mental health
- Increasing funding for substance abuse treatment
- Exploring better drug monitoring programs
- Supplying fentanyl detectors to law enforcement offices
- Providing opioid overdose reversal drugs (naloxone) to emergency responders
All of these are good routes that would help. Here are a few more that the White House’s opioid commission neglected to include but which are crucial:
- Increasing addiction treatment efforts in all fifty states, not just heavily affected areas.
- Promoting addiction treatment over addiction incarceration
- Increasing education about drug abuse risks and alcohol misuse risks
- Starting community programs and local efforts for drug reduction campaigns
- Increasing border patrol to stop drug trafficking
- Giving the DEA their rights back to pursue pharmaceutical corporations for making addictive drugs
- Creating drug prevention and education as mandatory programs in U.S. schools
- Modernizing drug testing in employment institutions and welfare offices
- Funding breathalyzer drug testing as a replacement for urine drug testing
There are other approaches the White House and current Administration should be working on, but the above approaches are the major ones that need the most attention right now.
Incarceration is Not the Solution
“Lock ‘em up and throw away the key.”
There is some concern on where the current Administration seems to want to take their drug prevention approach. Since his recent appointment, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has spoken time and time again about severely increasing the criminal punishment for drug users. According to Sessions:
“Lock ‘em up and throw away the key.”
While it is understandable that true criminals need to pay their dues, especially crimes that involve physical harm, violence, or severe harm to another person, there should be some concessions for addicts.
Our prisons currently contain more than two million people. That is seven hundred people for every one-hundred-thousand American residents. It is the highest incarceration rate in the entire world. No other nation faces incarceration statistics like these.
What is truly miserable is that a huge percentage of incarcerated individuals are in jail for non-violent drug possession crimes. This is flawed. We need to help drug addicts and alcoholics remove their addictions, not lock addicts away for a few years and hope that it will solve the problem. Psychologically speaking, an addict is just as likely to go back to drug use after a jail sentence than before. A jail is not a drug rehab. Drug rehabs are more affordable for taxpayers too.
As we sally forth into the next few years, we have to hope that the current Administration knows what they are doing with their efforts to address the National Public Health Emergency. If they don’t, we need to make our voices heard.