With presidential politics top of mind, many news sites are doing some evaluations of the past four years. Since Donald Trump took office, he’s made many promises and faced numerous challenges. One vow from his administration was to combat the nation’s deadly opioid addiction epidemic and it is interesting to look back now and see how much has been done. NPR actually delved into this at length on their site, emphasizing that they they think he “fumbled the response.”
The recap goes all the way back to Trump’s initial campaign promises in 2016. Back then, he declared that his administration planned to “stop the inflow of drugs into our country 100 percent.” On the contrary, though, during his first year in office, more than 42,000 Americans died from overdoses (which was a spike from years’ prior).
In October of 2017, Trump labeled the opioid crisis a public health emergency; acknowledging that ODs accounted for the leading cause of American fatalities. To his credit, there were accomplishments during that period. NPR points out that legislation was signed in 2018 that increased federal funding for drug treatments. Trade talks with countries like China also helped slow exports of illegal contraband.
Unfortunately, by late 2018 the efforts started steering towards a negative direction. It was during this period that President Trump defunded the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP). There was also confusion as to who was put in charge of leading the opioid epidemic response initiative (large turnarounds occurred there, with staffers Chris Christie and Kellyanne Conway at the helm during various stages).
The Rand Corporation’s Drug Policy Research Center head Beau Kilmer spoke to NPR about this period, acknowledging that it began a downward decline.
“The issues with the ONDCP made it difficult for people to understand, you know, who’s leading and coordinating the effort on opioids,” Kilmer explained.
And from there, things got significantly worse. By 2019 opioid overdose deaths were at their highest point yet, setting a record of over 50,000 fatalities. NPR also called out that Trump did not fulfill his initial promise during that period, failing to come up with a comprehensive response strategy. The deadly synthetic opioid fentanyl also rose in popularity during this time (and is listed as a major contributor to the rise in ODs).
The final troubling note is Trump’s promise to dismantle the Affordable Care Act. The worry there is that people will not have the financial support they need to enter treatment programs and the problem will continue to grow.
On the flipside, NPR did also share Joe Biden’s plan to curb the opioid crisis. If it truly comes to fruition, though, remains to be seen.