President Donald Trump promised to come out swinging with Thursday’s emergency declaration on opioid abuse. Swing, he did, but he failed to make contact.
By labeling the crisis a public health emergency, Trump skirted a legal definition that would have prompted emergency federal funding and placed the drug epidemic on a scale similar to major disaster response. He should have pledged a dollar amount equal to the challenge of combating an addiction epidemic that, by his own assessment, contributed to at least 64,000 U.S. overdose deaths last year.
Trump clearly grasps the magnitude of the problem, outlining it in the starkest terms: “Citizens across our country are currently dealing with the worst drug crisis in American history and even, if you really think about it, world history. … Drug overdoses are now the leading cause of unintentional death in the United States by far. More people are dying from drug overdoses today than from gun homicides and motor vehicles combined,” he said.
The driving force behind this epidemic is heroin and opioid abuse among an estimated 12 millions Americans. Trump labeled the United States as “by far the largest consumer of these drugs” in the world. “Opioid overdose deaths have quadrupled since 1999 and now account for the majority of fatal drug overdoses.”
Surely, a problem of this magnitude deserves a gargantuan plan of action. Trump’s speech Thursday contained no plan at all. He said the administration planned to announce a new policy to help relax restrictions that limit the number of beds in treatment facilities. He called for greater resolve.
He said he awaited a report from New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, the head of a presidential commission on opioid abuse, to address the problem. Trump reiterated the previous administration’s program to alert doctors about the dangers of over-prescribing opioids. He promised lawsuits against “bad actors.”
As if invoking First Lady Nancy Reagan’s “just say no” campaign in the 1980s, Trump said, “One of the things our administration will be doing is a massive advertising campaign to get people, especially children, not to want to take drugs in the first place because they will see the devastation and the ruination it causes to people and people’s lives.”
Trump did outline expenditures for programs already in place to boost law enforcement, border security, addiction treatment and pain management. None of those programs, however, has stemmed the addiction tide.
“We’re going to do it. We’re going to do it,” Trump insisted.
This was Trump’s moment to go big and bold in confronting a crisis that kills more Americans in a single year than all the hurricanes, earthquakes, floods and fires the nation has suffered in the past decade. America needs a plan of action, not a pep talk.