On Thursday afternoon, President Donald Trump announced his plan to combat the opioid epidemic that kills more than 200 people per day and claimed 59,000 lives in 2016 alone, according to the CDC.
Trump spoke at length about the need to teach children to abstain from drugs entirely, calling his approach “an idea that I had” and the “most important thing.”
“One of the things our administration will be doing is a massive advertising campaign to get people, especially children, not to want to take drugs in the first place because they will see the devastation and the ruination it causes to people and people’s lives,” said Trump. “There is nothing desirable about drugs. They are bad. We want the next generation of young Americans to know the blessings of a drug-free life.”
“This was an idea that I had, where if we can teach young people not to take drugs — just not to take them. When I see friends of mine that are having difficulty with not having that drink at dinner, where it’s literally almost impossible for them to stop, I say to myself, I can’t even understand it — why would that be difficult? But we understand why it is difficult.”
The Daily Beast notes:
Problem is: That’s a gigantic waste of time and money. Trump’s attempt to fight the opioid crisis with a Reaganesque “war on drugs” campaign aimed at children is literally the exact opposite approach to what is needed in the war on opioids. Study after study (PDF) has shown that PR campaigns—like the one Reagan made one of his presidency’s trademarks, and that Trump seems to be proposing—do next to nothing in solving a drug problem, and in fact, make drugs even more desirable.
It’s a classic psychological pull: Tell a person something is forbidden, and it makes that forbidden activity that much more attractive. Here’s a line from a 2008 study on the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign that clearly illustrated how much the “war on drugs” failed in being aimed toward children (with emphasis added): “Through June 2004, the campaign is unlikely to have had favorable effects on youths and may have had delayed unfavorable effects.”
The largest flaw in Trump’s announcement is the fact that he is aiming his public health campaign toward kids when the crisis actually finds its roots from drug companies pushing doctors to prescribe OxyContin for everyday chronic pain or bouncing back from surgery.
The demographic of that group is primarily white, middle-class Americans, a majority of them over the age of 65, according to the Daily Beast.
Despite promising several times to declare the opioid epidemic a national emergency, Trump on Thursday rejected the “first and most urgent” recommendation of his own opioid commission, instructing the acting director of the Department of Health and Human Services to declare the opioid crisis a “public health emergency” instead, a more narrow option that provides fewer resources and less funding.
Trump in August said the administration was drafting paperwork to officially declare the epidemic “a national emergency.”
“There are a lot of good people that are seeing what’s going on and I think we’ll be successful in that next week I’m declaring an emergency — a national emergency — on drugs,” Trump told Fox Business Network’s Lou Dobbs during an interview on Wednesday. “The opioid [crisis] is a tremendous emergency.”
At a press conference last week, Trump said he’d make the announcement this week, calling a declaration “a very important step” and saying “to get to that step, a lot of work has to be done and it’s time-consuming work.”
The administration’s opioid commission recommended either a public health emergency or a Stafford Act emergency, which is typically reserved for a terror attack or natural disaster.
The Stafford Act “doesn’t offer authority that is helpful here,” a senior administration official said. “There has been some false reporting about this.”