President Trump recently came out with his administration’s answer to the opiate epidemic and it fell far short of what most experts consider the right, best path.
Speaking for the president, Kellyanne Conway in her latest statements about the Trump administration’s position on the opioid crisis is raising red flags among politicians, addictions experts, and patients across the political spectrum.
On Fox News on October 26, Conway doubled down on statements made by President Trump during a press conference earlier that day, in which he officially declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency.
President Trump said, “This was an idea that I had, where if we can teach young people not to take drugs — just not to take them”, Trump said. “The fact is, if we can teach young people and people, generally not to start, it’s really, really easy not to take them.” He further explained that “I’ve never had a drink…..to this day, I’ve never had a cigarette”.
“Basically the President echoed the message that many health care providers and elected officials say, which is – the best way to stop people from dying from overdoses and drug abuse is by not starting in the first place,” said the Counselor to the President during an on-air interview with Fox News.
“That’s a big core message for our youth that the first lady is continuing to push with prevention education,” Conway continued.
Trump’s Statements Are Inaccurate & Misleading
In 2016, over 214 million opioid prescriptions were written by licensed medical doctors in the United States. Caucasian women over the age of 40 received more legal opioid prescriptions than non-whites, men, and adults under the age of 39.
For Millions Of Americans, Abstinence From Opioids Isn’t An Option
Prescription opioids (also known as narcotics) have been used for over a century in the U.S. to treat debilitating chronic and acute pain, including moderate to severe pain caused by cancer. Until a safe, effective alternative is found for these patients, opioids will continue to play a critical role in the treatment of metastatic cancers, spinal cord injuries, and other serious medical conditions.
We Already Know “Just Say No” Doesn’t Work
“Just say no.” In 1982 First Lady Nancy Reagan uttered those three words in response to a schoolgirl who wanted to know what she should say if someone offered her drugs. The first lady’s suggestion soon became the clarion call for the adolescent drug prevention movement in the 1980s and beyond.
“Substance abuse is much more complicated than a simple choice of yes or no,” said Lori Criss, chief executive officer of the Ohio Council of Behavioral Health & Family Services Providers.
The D.A.R.E. Program
In response to the call to curb drug use, The Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.) program was launched in 1983 in Los Angeles, pairing local law enforcement officers with students in an effort to prevent youth drug abuse and gang involvement. D.A.R.E. went on to be implemented in approximately 75 percent of all U.S. public school districts, but despite it’s prevalence, experts agree it did little to impact a measurable reduction in both substance abuse and criminal behavior among young people.
“The evidence is clear that the D.A.R.E. programs, fear-based advertising, and Just Say No campaigns of the 1980s had no benefits at all,” said Keith Humphreys, a psychiatrist at Stanford University who served as a drug policy adviser under President Barack Obama.
What we do know is that the “Just Say No” mantra does tend to demonize addicts, reduce the availability of treatment options, and ignore the complex medical, socio-economic and political issues associated with drug use, and abuse.
How Does Anyone With a Disease Just Say “No”
Addiction is classified as a disease by both the American Medical Association and the World Health Organization. If someone was suffering with diabetes and said “just said no”, it would be considered to be a form of being in complete “denial”.
Speaking on behalf of President Trump, Conway’s comments make her thoughts on addiction clear – she believes users make a conscious choice to become addicts, which in turn places blame squarely on the addicts themselves.
Addiction is A Complex, Difficult-To-Treat Disease.
Addiction has been long recognized as a disease by medical professionals; in fact, in 1747, the French philosopher Condillac called “inebriety” (alcoholism) “a disease and called for government-funded treatment for those who were afflicted”.
Over the past century, research on addictions has confirmed what Condillac said – that addiction is a chronic, relapsing disease that actually leads to measurable changes within the brain. Because opioids are a highly addictive class of drugs, many active opioid addicts were introduced to substances like codeine, hydromorphine, and fentanyl while being treated for serious medical conditions, and this use led to addiction.
These patients certainly didn’t ‘choose’ to become addicts, and ‘Just Say No’ wasn’t an option for them either.