On October 26th, President Trump declared the nation’s opioid crisis a national health emergency. And that was about it. As a licensed alcohol and drug counselor with 21 years of experience, the President’s attitude and approach towards the opioid crisis left me immensely frustrated and in need of some deep breathing.
I started practicing as an alcohol and drug counselor in 1996 and the majority of my clients initially presented with alcohol and marijuana use issues; only a few endorsed harder illicit drug use (e.g., cocaine). Within two years of starting my practice, prescription opioids rose to the top my clients’ list of preferred substances. Clients unabashedly described in detail to me their manipulation of physicians and/or stealing of script pads to facilitate their drug use. These clients were taking risks physically, emotionally, and legally to fuel, rather than curb, their drug use in ways that were markedly more dangerous and severe than those of previous clients with mainly alcohol and marijuana problems. I recall families coming into session with me celebrating the fact that their child (i.e., my client) was only an “alcoholic” and commenting, “at least my child isn’t a heroin addict!”
Alcohol, marijuana, prescription meds, or heroin; doesn’t matter the drug of choice-these are all substances through which one can develop a debilitating, chronic, and potentially fatal disorder boasting negative physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, legal, and social consequences. The President’s “stance” on the opioid crisis was far from anything myself, other addictions counselors, and suffering and recovering addicts could ever relate to. He referenced the sad passing of his brother, Fred, to addiction and how he followed his brother’s advice to just not drink. Although my sympathies are with anyone who loses a loved one to addiction, the President’s sentiments lacked acknowledgement for the genuine struggles of addiction that extend far beyond one having a strong enough will power to “just say no.” Addiction is a powerful, cunning, and baffling disease warranting clinical intervention. Yes, DISEASE, not merely an issue of one’s willpower being too weak. I’m not sure who or what has informed the President about addiction and the opioid epidemic more broadly, but I have to assume that he may not have consulted with resources available through the Centers for Disease Control or the American Medical Association that clearly describe addiction as a DISEASE.
May I suggest, Mr. President, that instead of attempting to relate to a group of people you may have no connection with (i.e., addictions counselors, addicts, and their loved ones), you, instead, put your money where your mouth is. Last year I proposed a bill in the NJ state legislature that proposed payouts to drug informants for supplying authorities with information leading to convictions of dealers as well as garnishing money from convicted drug dealers’ sales to finance drug rehabilitation programs in the state. Unfortunately Governor Christie’s legislature killed the bill. Despite my frustration at the state level, I remain hopeful that both state and federal legislation can be passed that actually prioritizes addiction treatment, rather than building up police forces to contain, rather than treat, the opioid crisis in this country.