Americans hoping Thursday that the White House would provide powerful medicine to finally treat the nation’s opioid addiction plague got only a Trump Administration placebo.
After months of talk, numerous campaign promises and a drum roll this week that set expectations high, Trump declared this American scourge just a “public health emergency,” triggering the release of a whopping $57,000 in federal aid to be shared among all 50 states and other territories.
“It is time to liberate our communities from this scourge of drug addiction,” Trump said during a ballyhooed speech Thursday, downgrading the declaration from “national” to “health” emergency, relegating it to the growing pile of American problems. “We can be the generation that ends the opioid epidemic.”
Not like this, we won’t. This week’s theatrics and nostrum make no difference to the almost 100 Americans who will die today, and every day, from their addiction to prescription and illegal opioids.
Money aside, Trump and his administration made it clear they either do not understand the crisis, or that they refuse to admit the cause and cure for the problem.
Just as disappointing yesterday was Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who said, “Show me the money.”
Money alone won’t solve the problem, and it especially won’t prevent thousands of Americans from becoming the next wave of opioid addicts.
This pandemic is hardly new. It became a critical problem back in 2011 when that Congress and the Obama Administration also failed to address it, even though experts have long identified it and offered real solutions.
More talk won’t help. Stealing money from cancer research or Zika virus programs won’t help. Certainly $57,000 isn’t going to do anything.
Drug addiction experts agree that only structural changes in the drug and medical industries will stop the cycle of creating new addicts and killing off the experienced ones.
The U.S. pharmaceutical industry essentially writes the nation’s drug laws because they control a majority of Congress much in the same way that the National Rifle Association controls all firearms legislation. Most estimates peg drug company campaign contributions well past an astonishing $2 billion over the past decade. Their investment has paid off.
These companies prevent real regulation of an opioid drug trade so vast it’s estimated to encompass at least tens of billions of dollars each year. Americans consume almost 90 percent of the tons of opioid pain killers cranked out each year. The laws drug-makers create protect the industry, not Americans.
But this alone isn’t the problem. The American fee-for-service medical system is also to blame. Insurance companies pay doctors more when they “treat” patients by prescribing drugs than telling them to take two aspirins and call back in the morning.
Too many physicians hand these seriously addictive drugs to patients, and the government doesn’t regulate the quantity provided to an individual. Add doctor shopping to this mess and you have the perfect recipe for today’s modern plague.
And even changes in federal law that help identify addicts will do little. By the time most of these addicts have run through all their money, friends and family to feed a habit they cannot control or even accept, they’re ready to turn to much more affordable and easily attainable heroin to seal their fate.
The answer to all this so far has been the introduction of a new drug that keeps an overdosed addict from dying — sold by the same drug industry that helps create addicts.
If Congress is serious about ending this problem, they’ll listen to drug-industry lobbyists along with everyone else, but they won’t take their campaign money.
If the medical profession is serious about ending the scourge, they’ll stop prescribing these drugs and insist their clearly addicted patients get immediate treatment.
If Trump is serious about saving hundreds of thousands of American lives, he’ll work with Congress to ensure every addicted American has access to affordable, attainable addiction treatment.
That’s going to cost a lot more than $57,000.
A campaign to talk Americans out of their addictions through public service announcements is nothing but a vain attempt to appeal to people who are unable to even admit the addiction they’re suffering through. America tried it with smoking and other illegal drugs. It did absolutely nothing. It ignores the insidiousness of prescription opioid addiction: it starts with the person you trust most, your doctor.
With upwards of 30 percent of American patients getting an opioid prescription each year, and the rate of addiction and death only spirals up. The situation looks less than bleak after yesterday’s pep talk by President Trump.
Only strategic changes in drug and medical legislation, accompanied by expensive addiction treatment programs for hundreds of thousands of Americans, will do any good.
That’s the bitter pill the last administration, and now this one, are clearly unwilling to take.
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