Editorial: Stop the ‘Tough’ Talk and Act on Opioids

  • Protesters gather near the Manchester Central Fire Station in Manchester, N.H., Monday, March 19, 2018, where President Donald Trump madee an unscheduled visit. Trump is in New Hampshire to unveil more of his plan to combat the nation's opioid crisis. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh) Susan Walsh

Published: 3/21/2018 10:10:09 PM
Modified: 3/21/2018 10:10:16 PM

On Monday, President Donald Trump swaggered into New Hampshire, the state he once mocked as a “drug-infested den,” and did what he does best: talk tough.

While unveiling his “Initiative to Stop Opioid Abuse” during a speech in Manchester, Trump ripped a page from the bloody playbook of the strongmen he so admires and brandished capital punishment for drug traffickers as key to solving the scourge of addiction.

“If we don’t get tough on the drug dealers, we’re wasting our time,” he said. “And that toughness includes the death penalty.”

“Toughness is the thing they most fear,” he continued. “We have got to get tough. This isn’t about nice anymore.”


The country has been dealing for years now with an opioid epidemic that has killed tens of thousands of people — 64,000 in 2016 alone and probably more last year — and has been waiting since October for the president to follow his declaration of a public health emergency with a specific plan of action. Somehow, over the last five months, between his early-morning tweetstorms and his record number of presidential golf outings, Trump found the time to oversee the production of his “Initiative,” which amounts to three pages of bullet points.

The encouraging thing is, many of those points actually make sense.

For example: educating health care providers more effectively about painkillers, using prescription drug monitoring programs more efficiently, providing more residential substance abuse treatment facilities, increasing access to medication-assisted treatment, getting federal prisoners into treatment for opioid addiction, ensuring that first responders have adequate supplies of the overdose antidote naloxone and holding pharmaceutical companies responsible for flooding the country with opioids, among other worthwhile steps.

But Trump stomped all over those good ideas with his tough guy bluster, which resembles nothing so much as the idiotic rhetoric of last century’s failed “War on Drugs,” the repercussions of which we are all still paying for today.

“I think it reflects a lack of a broader understanding of the factors in this crisis,” Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., said in a statement after Trump’s speech. “Law enforcement have been the first people to tell us we can’t enforce our way out of this.”

The initiative even includes an advertising campaign. Can we just say no?

And here’s an even bigger but: The president didn’t specify how he would spend the $6 billion Congress has already appropriated to battle the crisis or where he would get the tens of billions more that surely are needed. (As part of their effort last year to gut the Affordable Care Act, congressional Republicans proposed a $45 billion, multiyear increase in opioid spending, which Gov. John Kasich, an Ohio Republican, said was like “spitting in the ocean.”)

Further, the White House’s budget proposal cuts hundreds of billions of dollars in federal assistance to state Medicaid programs, which would threaten the progress states on the front lines of the crisis — including New Hampshire — have made in confronting the epidemic.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., said she supported many of the policies Trump proposed in his initiative. “What’s been missing is follow-through,” she said. “We need the president to commit to providing the resources necessary to win this fight.”

Instead of trying to show the world how tough he is, the president should focus his energies — and his rhetoric — on the elements of his initiative that will do the most good for the most people in the shortest time possible. He should push Congress to appropriate and spend what it takes to carry out those steps. He should bring in a public health professional to run the administration’s opioid effort, instead of the political huckster Kellyanne Conway, and he should stop trying to undermine the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid, which have helped millions get treatment for their addictions.

The opioid crisis is killing close to 200 Americans every day. There is no time to waste.

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