Trump Declares a National Opioid Emergency. Now What?

by Pitt Griffin on August 10, 2017 · 0 comments

in Drugs, Trump presidency

Donald Trump declared opioids a national health emergency – but did so two days after his Secretary of HHS said that it was premature to do so. An administration about-face which raises questions about Trump’s sincerity – if Trump’s lack of follow through on everything wasn’t already enough to cause doubt.

Add in the fact that the week so far has been dominated by Trump’s ad-libbed North Korean policy – where he presents himself as a madman with his finger on the nuclear button – and cynics will say his drug war declaration gives him an excuse to talk about something else.

For once, everyone would like the President to show a commitment to something beyond his twitter feed, polls, and Fox News. But we shall have to see if opioids focus his attention as nothing else has done so far.

The heroin/synthetic heroin epidemic is killing people. But we haven’t been taking it seriously. In the states, Governors showed concern. But federally, Jeff Sessions prioritized pot.

Part of the problem is our understanding of addiction. Many believe it is a sign of weakness or a moral failing. They pooh-pooh the idea that it is a disease. In their philosophy, if people would only get a grip, show some balls and face up to their problems, they would be able to shake the monkey off their back.

Many of the sanctimonious preachers of self-control are oblivious to irony. Frequently, these tut-tutters are alcoholics, smokers, and overeaters. And among those are many who have repeatedly sworn to quit their vice – but failed. As Steven McCovey observed, “We judge ourselves by our intentions and others by their behavior”.

And that’s not all. Whites characterized drug addiction as a ‘minority’ problem. It was something that blacks and Hispanics did. Think not? Consider the glamor of cocaine vs. the scourge of crack. Suburban Prozac versus urban heroin.

And so it was no surprise that the ‘remedy’ to drug addiction was more law enforcement. And border walls. And mandatory sentences. With rehabilitation an after-thought. Nixon – and does Trump want the comparison – declared a ‘War on Drugs’. The efficacy of which can be shown by our burgeoning opioid problem.

Finally, the powers that be have noticed that white kids from ‘good’ families are OD’ing. As well as actors like Philip Seymour Hoffman. And stars like Prince. Opioid deaths are no longer the grubby secret of the underclass and inner-city.

We’ve seen the like before. In the 1980s, AIDS was first thought of as something that happened to homosexuals – indeed it was originally called GRID, ‘Gay Related Immune Deficiency’. But then came Ryan White – and the realization that 13-year-old boys and blood transfusion recipients could get it – and it wasn’t called the ‘gay disease’ anymore.

When Rock Hudson, Liberace, Freddy Mercury and Halston died, AIDS was given a universal human face. Gays were legends and major stars – not just disposable rent boys and hedonistic bath-house habitués from San Francisco. And then came Arthur Ashe and Magic Johnson – and AIDS among blacks was no longer anonymous and ignorable.

The good news is that public opinion demanded that we do something. And now HIV is often reduced to a managed chronic condition, as opposed to a death sentence. After all, Magic Johnson is still alive. And hopefully, we will soon see opiate addiction treated with the same seriousness – without the moral baggage – and with an equally salubrious outcome.

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