President Donald Trump sent mixed messages last week regarding the nation's epidemic of opioid addiction and overdose deaths.
In some ways, it seemed like he wanted to turn the clock back to Richard Nixon’s “War on Drugs” and Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” campaign. Speaking on Tuesday at his golf club in Bedminster, Trump stressed increased law enforcement, better border security and abstinence as the best weapons in the fight against addiction.
That approach ignores a growing body of opinion, even among law enforcement officials, that the drug war is a failure and that the United States will never arrest its way out of an epidemic that is killing more than 142 Americans a day.
Trump also initially rejected a key recommendation of the White House Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis, which is chaired by Gov. Chris Christie. An interim report by the commission stressed expanded access to drug-treatment programs as the best approach and called on Trump to declare opioid addiction a national emergency, which would allow the federal government to quickly free up more funds for addiction treatment.
On Tuesday, Trump rejected the idea of declaring a national emergency, failing to even mention Christie’s commission. And Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price made a point of telling reporters that declaring a national emergency was inappropriate for a long-term problem like addiction.
Then, on Thursday, Trump declared opioid addiction a national emergency.
“It’s a national emergency. We’re going to spend a lot of time, a lot of effort and a lot of money on the opioid crisis,” Trump said.
OK … just one more bizarre curiosity in an administration full of bizarre curiosities.
Christie and his family were on vacation in Europe during all this — perhaps not coincidentally. Despite Christie’s bullying and bluster on most issues, his willingness to tackle opioid addiction seems heartfelt and real. And Christie, like most experts in the field, knows that expanded access to treatment, including additional Medicaid funds, is the best way to fight the growing use of heroin and other opioids.
Yet, Trump’s initial response was to say that children have to be told drugs are “no good, really bad for you in every way” and that increasing law enforcement on the border with Mexico and increasing the number of drug prosecutions nationwide are the top priorities.
Frankly, Trump’s waffling — not to mention the dated approach to opioid addiction he initially espoused — was an insult to Christie’s work. And worse, an insult to everyone in this country who, either directly or indirectly, has endured the pain of drug addiction and fatal overdoses.