Last week, President Donald Trump issued a bit of distraction from brinksmanship with North Korea, Robert Mueller’s investigation, beefs with Republican Senators, and the utter botch of hurricane relief efforts in U.S. territories by declaring a war on opioid abuse.
The rhetoric was the usual blather, the kind of filler that elementary school kids might put into book reports when they aren’t sure of the actual facts.
“Nobody has seen anything like this going on now,” Trump said, as he says every time he deals with a crisis. “As Americans, we cannot allow this to continue,” Trump added.
Of course, therein lies the paradox. Americans have embraced this—from our policymakers to those of us who never visit a ballot box.
Americans, especially in the last quarter-century, as Big Pharma products have been pushed in seemingly every other ad, grew to love opioids.
Consider when the big push happened: the 1990s. At a time when every hick town’s city limits sign was festooned with the words “Zero Drug Tolerance” and some handcuffs, Big Pharma was doling out incentives to doctors, and doctors were doling out scrips to patients.
From 1999 to 2014, sales of prescription opioids nearly quadrupled in America, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Often, scripts would be given out for years, and then would come the recalls, which thus far have peaked at roughly 1,200 in 2013.
Why the recalls? Well, a product gets pushed to market, pushed to consumers, and then—showing flaws in the research and development process, which exorbitant drug prices are supposed to be funding—after enough people develop “complications,” the recall process happens … right around the time a new, better product is released.
This is not the life cycle of healing, but of marketing. And it’s one in which the political class has been and will be complicit. Republicans, who run everything right now, are not known for turning down campaign donations from Big Pharma.
In the last decade, it was the “pill mill” epidemic, which we saw have grievous impacts locally, as well as in places like Appalachia, New Hampshire, and other rural enclaves where the jobs in coal mines, mills and factories disappeared decades ago.
It has largely abated locally. More and more, we see heroin as an issue—but heroin cut with fentanyl or carfentanil, which leads to the bulk of the overdose calls that are going to cost the city of Jacksonville $5M, give or take, this fiscal year.
Middle-aged white dudes, the ones who would theoretically constitute a chunk of the president’s base, are most prone to these overdoses, as Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen told the Senate in July, “especially among less-educated men,” America is “seeing an increase in death rates partly reflecting opioid use.”
This is, to be clear, an existential crisis affecting poor whites in the same way that crack affected African-American communities 30 years ago.
Trump has a solution: to “liberate our communities from this scourge of drug addiction. ... We can be the generation that ends the opioid epidemic. We can do it.”
While theoretically that’s possible, practically it won’t happen—and definitely not with Donald Trump in the White House. Organic palliatives, such as kratom and cannabis, are way too exotic for his administration. What is more likely: a combination of more of the same Drug War rhetoric we’ve seen from Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, combined with billions of dollars being allocated to residential treatment facilities.
While that may make a difference on an individual basis, it won’t fix the larger problem of economic and social dislocation that leads to these communities fraying, to individuals out of boredom and despondency turning to drugs, and all that goes along with it.
The downward mobility. The short-circuiting of family traditions and hierarchies. The breakdown in basic life and academic skills among their children. And the passing on of pathologies, the kinds that ensure broken dreams and broken relationships for all but the rare shining exceptions that prove the rule.
We have a drug crisis, ultimately, because people have been led in that direction through a convergence of malign forces. And in his years in public life, Donald Trump has done a much better job exploiting malign forces than offering any solution.
So it will be with the war on opioids.
Ronald Reagan’s drug war was a distraction from the erosion of America’s industrial base, shady covert ops in Central America and Iran/Iraq.
What isn’t Trump’s drug war a distraction from?
One difference between Trump and Reagan: Even in the throes of advancing Alzheimer’s, Reagan retained a certain moral authority. Trump has never even pretended to have such.
The result of this? A couple of years down the line, expect a lot of think pieces about how “Trump’s good intentions didn’t solve the opioid crisis; indeed, it got worse.”
Don’t say I didn’t warn you.