Trump Announces Opioid Crisis Is a National Emergency, Proceeds to Do Nothing About It

When you’re Donald Trump, you’ve got bigger things to worry about than national emergencies. At least, it certainly seems that way.

In October, the commander-in-chief addressed the nation on the topic of America’s opioid epidemic. It was a statement a long time coming, with the death toll from opioid overdoses on the rise in the United States since before 2000.



Unfortunately, Trump’s address comes off as more of a PR stunt than an actual commitment to righting the problem. With no action to back up his words, it’s not reasonable to think anything will get better.

An Empty Promise

To understand how Trump’s response to the opioid crisis compares to other national emergencies, you have to know that this one was a national emergency in name only. The U.S. government has a process for declaring such situations. Going through it unlocks special government powers and funding that are intended to help improve the situation.

Every national emergency currently on the books — there are 28 at the moment — has to be renewed by the president annually. Many of the emergencies currently on the books are more closely tied to issues that take place outside of the USA, but with the opioid epidemic, the Trump administration never filed the paperwork to add it as the 29th item to this list.



Under the Obama administration, we saw the use of government power to combat a health issue during the 2009 outbreak of swine flu. This was a public health emergency, different from the type declared by Trump. Declaring one would require action from the secretary of health and human services, and would unlock special funding and resources aimed at resolving the issue.

President Trump could, of course, instruct his secretary to do this. So far, it hasn’t happened.

Moving in Reverse

Not only is Trump posturing like he’s making a difference without in fact taking action, but he’s also making things worse than they were before. In fact, the sum of funding that Trump has allocated to alleviate this nationwide crisis is less than $60,000. In a major PR move, he also announced that he’d be donating his quarterly salary to the crisis. That would be great if that sum of money even came close to what we need. Unfortunately, it does not.

Whereas the Obama administration took a progressive approach to the issue of addiction and allotted $1 billion to make facilities and medication available for addicts, Trump’s policy returns us to Reagan-era drug laws that treat addicts as criminals.

The result of these types of laws, it’s been shown, is that more people end up in jail and addicts resort to more drug use. Criminalizing the condition of addiction gives users no hope. The fear of imprisonment encourages them to fight back against authority and discourages them from seeking help.

Taking Responsibility

Trump’s administration should know better than to return to a strategy we know doesn’t work. The opioid epidemic has its roots in the fallout from pharmaceutical users switching from the addictive painkiller OxyContin to street drugs after the drug’s maker changed the formula.

Once addicted to heroin, these folks faced another life-threatening challenge in the form of fentanyl. Originally a pain suppressant formulated to help cancer patients, this super opioid is 60 times more potent than morphine and is finding its way into street dope. A single hit is enough to be lethal in many cases, and the only drugs that can stop an overdose are outlawed or incredibly difficult to get.

What we should be doing is encouraging these people, many of whom led normal lives before being prescribed an FDA-approved drug, to get help. However, if the executive branch and Congress refuse to take action, maybe states can make their own push to rid themselves of this disease.

State attorneys general have the power to sue drug makers and distributors. With big pharma looking fatter than ever, the time is right for states to demand compensation from the people who got rich creating opioid addicts.

Déjà Vu for Addicts

A former addict, Elizabeth Brico, wrote about how she was once affected by the powerful dependence on drugs that are killing 60,000 Americans every year. As someone who’s experienced drug addiction and fought through it, she knows Trump is going about things all wrong.

Even when she tries to recognize the efforts that have been made, Brico cites that Trump has gutted the programs they would run through. “Trump did make some treatment-focused recommendations that could help, if not coupled with Medicaid and other public health funding cuts,” she says.

Saying one thing and doing another. Does this sound anything like the Trump campaign?

There are people’s lives at stake here, and it speaks to the pettiness of our president’s character that he would make a speech about the severity of this situation and then sit back and make no attempt to do anything about it. Most Americans saw the speech on the evening news and assume everything’s going to get better — promise kept.

Not so. Thanks Donald, for nothing.

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Kate Harveston

Kate Harveston

Kate Harveston is a political writer with an interest in social justice and human rights. If you like her writing, you can follow her on Twitter or visit her blog, “Only Slightly Biased.”
Kate Harveston