The opioid epidemic is far from over. The entire nation is being ravaged every single day by drug addiction, but especially by heroin and prescription pill addictions. The number of American deaths from drug overdoses continues to increase, and has been rising since 1999, back when Bill Clinton still had two years as our president. Now, three presidents later, it’s a complete warzone out there, a full-blown opioid epidemic. In early August, Donald Trump, our current commander in chief, held another media briefing on the epidemic. The gist of what he said was that the problem is still out of control, and that the government is indeed working on slowing and stopping the epidemic. Unfortunately, one thing not mentioned was progress. During his campaign for presidency, Trump acknowledged the depth of the American drug problem, and promised strongly that he and his administration would combat the opioid epidemic with an iron fist. Eight months into his presidency, during last month’s briefing, he basically said the same thing.
The Media Briefing
“Nobody is safe from this epidemic that threatens young and old, rich and poor, urban and rural communities… everybody is threatened,” said the president early in the discussion. He is absolutely correct. Unlike in the past, there is no demographic for today’s heroin or pill addict. The availability is widespread, and with the outrageous over-prescription issue in this country, more people than ever are becoming hooked on pills such as OxyContin or Vicodin. The problem is that once these pills run out, heroin becomes the easier-to-acquire replacement. America hasn’t been throwing any white towels, either. Virtually every state in the country has implemented new programs and/or laws to help combat the epidemic over the past decade or so. Former president Barack Obama was responsible for enormous effort, especially with his 21st Century Cures Act, which garnered a billion dollars for the good fight. [In a dire attempt to remain apolitical, we still must share this with you: According to New York Magazine, in the beginning of Trump’s presidency he pledged an ‘additional’ $500 million to fight the opioid epidemic, but in reality that money was the second of two installments guaranteed by Obama’s 21st Century Cures Act]. However, it seems that the epidemic rages on regardless of how many dollars are spent, at least for now. During the recent briefing, Trump hinted at perhaps having new ways to combat the crisis: “Today I’m pleased to receive a briefing from our team on ways we can help our communities fight this absolutely terrible epidemic, and keep youth from going down this deadly path.” No more was mentioned on the team’s briefing, and a full report is due to be published next month in October. The president did speak at length on how we are fortifying the southern border of the US more than perhaps ever in history, and that part of why is to prevent illicit drugs from entering our country from Mexico, a country with many drug cartels that profit off of American addiction. He also mentioned that we are still negotiating with China regarding the shipment of illicit chemicals to the US. Sadly, this is old news. We as a country have been aware of the Mexican-Chinese drug infiltration for over a year at least. It was last August when Vancouver police seized enough carfentanil to wipe out 50 million people. It was snail-mailed from China. Getting drug into America from Mexico is even easier. The main focus of Trump’s recent briefing was that there has been a decline in federal drug prosecution. “At the end of 2016, there were 23 percent fewer federal prosecutions than in 2011…” said Trump, noting that the former administration “…looked at this scourge and they let it go by.” Whether that’s true or not, and whether you approve of Trump or not, there may be some credit in saying that we need to pump up law enforcement. It might be the only weapon left to try and use against the opioid crisis.
The War on Drugs
This writer is over thirty years old and has known about this term for at least twenty of them. By now it almost seems that America is in a perpetual war on drugs, and is perpetually losing. Sadly, the number goes up every so often, but currently 91 Americans die every day from either heroin or opioid prescription overdoses. Please let that soak in. Every single hour, nearly four people meet their end because of a drug. Six out of ten fatal overdoses are from opioids. Every three weeks, the same number of people die from opioids as died total in the tragedy of September 11th. Heroin officially has killed more people than AIDS. There are 100 ways to put it but one absolute truth: The opioid epidemic is in full effect. We will have to wait another month to see what Trump and his administration have come up with as the next maneuver in the war, but so far here’s what’s going on right now. The Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis, (CCDAOC), last month “…made a series of recommendations on the topic focused on treatment to combat addiction and regulating prescriptions to prevent abuse,” as reported by ABC News. The commission also recommended Trump declares a national emergency. Around the same time, Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a memorandum to all federal prosecutors in America. The first sentence of the second paragraph says it all: “First, it is a core principle that prosecutors should charge and pursue the most serious, readily provable offense.” The attorney general makes it clear that this includes mandatory minimum sentences, something Obama was starkly against. Again, it is not our job to judge the politics of this country. Our job is to report on the status of the opioid epidemic, and ultimately to offer help to anyone who is struggling with any type of addiction. That being said, one can only hope that this boost in law enforcement will help. However, simply sending anyone who is in possession of any amount of an illicit substance to jail for as long as possible does not seem like the best way to combat what is essentially a personal problem that so happens to affect millions of persons. Thankfully, to this, Attorney General Sessions said: “If you are a drug trafficker, we will not look the other way. We will not be willfully blind to your conduct. We are talking about a kilogram of heroin–that is 10,000 doses, five kilograms of cocaine and 1,000 kilograms of marijuana. These are not low-level offenders. These are drug dealers. And you’re going to prison.”
The CCDAOC (and Governor Christie)
There really isn’t a single state in America that hasn’t been hammered by the heavy hand of opioid addiction, but some states have it worse than others. One of the more affected states is New Jersey, home state to over 1,900 victims of opioid overdose last year. Remember how 91 US citizens die every day this way? In NJ, the number is 5.2 when rounded. If as many people died in every other state as in New Jersey, this country would see 260 people die from ODs every day – an increase of almost 300%. NJ Governor Chris Christie has truly been one of the five-star generals in the war on the epidemic. He is, after all, head of the aforementioned CCDAOC, and actually has had two people close to him die from opioids. He has a dog in the fight, so to speak. Perhaps that’s why earlier this year in February he implemented perhaps the ‘harshest’ of all current drug laws: changing the supply of opioid prescriptions from thirty days’ worth to five days’ worth. After all, it’s become apparent that the opioid epidemic began (and could end) at the doctor’s office. This, recently, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “The amount of prescription opioids sold to pharmacies, hospitals, and doctors’ offices nearly quadrupled from 1999 to 2010, yet there had not been an overall change in the amount of pain that Americans reported. Deaths from prescription opioids, drugs like oxycodone, hydrocodone, and methadone, have more than quadrupled since 1999.” This writer, for one, does not find it coincidental that both the pill count and the death toll quadrupled over the same period of time. One hopes that other states will take influence from Christie’s law. One also hopes that the New Jersey governor’s newest move will have a positive impact. On September 17th it was reported that Gov. Christie will soon pledge $200 million to help those who are ‘underserved’ during this time of crisis. This will include those without health insurance, those on Medicaid, and families with babies born into addiction. Also, about a sixth of the money will be spent to provide housing and treatment for current addicts. The governor hopes ultimately for sustained sobriety, not just a quick fix.
Trump and the Future of the Epidemic
Governor Christie has been praised for his hard-nosed efforts in combating the opioid crisis. Trump, however, has not. In fact, add onto the pile of criticism the fact that Pres. Trump truly has been rather quiet about the epidemic. During his campaign, the opioid epidemic was a focal point. As of now, not much more than briefings and a continuation of Obama’s previous efforts has been done on a federal level. The increase of southern border security has an obvious ulterior motive, as does negotiating with China. (Again – not politicians – but a quick Google search ought to show you why this is true.) Yet, whether or not Trump is sincere in fighting the crisis, two of his fellow Republicans definitely are sincere: Attorney General Sessions and NJ Governor Christie. One may be a little more old-school than the other, but at this point the general consensus has to be one of ‘whatever works’. “The average sentence for a convicted federal drug offender decreased 20 percent from 2009 to 2016,” said Trump during last month’s briefing, adding that he promised indeed to fight this battle back during his campaign. Perhaps more law enforcement is what we need. Time will tell. There is another thing Trump said at the briefing, something poignant and absolutely true. It may have been a line written for him, and he may not have fully embraced the meaning behind it, but the truth of the statement is inarguable, especially now. He said it about the war on the drug epidemic, and he said: “We have to win. We have no alternative. We have to win for our youth.” Yes, Mr. President, yes we do, especially since the largest increase in heroin use has been among those aged 18 to 25 – the future of this nation.
Much evidence exists pointing toward the daily death toll being much larger than 91 per day. In fact, the same CCDAOC report that asked Trump to declare a national state of emergency also claimed 142 deaths a day due to opioids. Governor Christie it seems is a definite warrior of the drug war. His efforts lead the way in a country ravaged by drugs. As for Trump, let us have faith in the words Christie spoke about him: “I’m convinced that the president is committed to this. I look forward to his and his administration’s reaction to the draft report [coming later this year], and I look forward to continuing to work with the members of the commission to make sure that we’re giving the president and his administration the very best information we can to deal with this crisis.”