"There's a danger that this president will use an emergency declaration as an excuse to ratchet up the war on drugs."
—Grant Smith, Drug Policy Alliance
With remarks immediately slammed as a collection of recycled Reagan-era "just say no" tropes and war on drugs rhetoric, President Donald Trump officially declared America's opioid epidemic a "public health emergency"—a designation accompanied by proposals critics said are akin to "putting a Band-Aid on a gunshot wound."
"President Trump's declaration today amounts to a drop in the bucket compared to what the White House and Congress should be delivering to address this crisis," said Grant Smith, deputy director of national affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance. "We need to end drug criminalization and stop incarcerating people who are struggling."
You're not living in reality Mr. President!! Answer to this crisis isn't simple "Just Say No" message. Didn't work for Nancy, won't work now
— Drug Policy Alliance (@DrugPolicyOrg) October 26, 2017
Ahead of Trump's speech, reports emerged that the president would not declare the epidemic a national emergency as he had previously promised. Doing so would have "immediately unlocked billions of dollars of federal money." Instead, no new federal funds will be allocated to combat the crisis that kills tens of thousands of Americans a year.
Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, a Democrat, argued in a statement following the presidents remarks that without any new funds, Trump's "plan" is "woefully inadequate to address the challenges we face."
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"Our communities need federal funding and resources to fight this epidemic," Healey added. "Fire and police departments are struggling to afford overdose reversal drugs. Schools and health centers need to expand prevention education to all students. Families need expanded access to substance use treatment. These are actions we can take right now. And this announcement does little to support any of them."
"A national strategy on opioids must include a plan to rein in the corrupt abuses of the pharmaceutical industry, or it likely will fail."
—Peter Maybarduk, Public Citizen
In the place of substantive policy moves, Trump floated proposals ranging from a "really tough, really big" advertising campaign aimed at convincing the public that "drugs are bad" and that people shouldn't take them, to a "law-and-order" style crackdown on "criminals who peddle dangerous drugs to our youth."
These remarks show "there's a danger that this president will use an emergency declaration as an excuse to ratchet up the war on drugs with more funding for locking up more people and harsher sentencing laws," warned Grant Smith of the Drug Policy Alliance.
Also absent from Trump's speech was any mention of the role the pharmaceutical industry has played in perpetuating the opioid crisis.
"A national strategy on opioids must include a plan to rein in the corrupt abuses of the pharmaceutical industry, or it likely will fail," said Peter Maybarduk, director of Public Citizen's Access to Medicines Program, in a statement following the president's speech.
As an alternative to Trump's fact- and substance-free remarks, the Drug Policy Alliance highlighted its "Public Health and Safety Plan to Address Problematic Opioid Use and Overdose," a 17-page document (pdf) outlining proposals that reach beyond "the status quo policy of criminalization."
"We need a well thought out plan from the Trump administration that resolves the many obstacles people face trying to access medication-assisted treatment and naloxone to save lives," Smith concluded. "We need new funding from Congress to fix our broken treatment infrastructure and boost public health capabilities to end this crisis. We need to implement proven strategies that have not been tried yet in the U.S., like supervised injection facilities to prevent overdose deaths and reduce opioid-related harm."