Trump’s Opioid Commission Recently Recommended Health-Based Response, While Attorney General Sessions Pushes for More Criminalization and Incarceration
Advocates: Opioid Overdose Crisis is a Health Issue, Not Criminal Issue
President Trump is expected to be briefed on the opioid crisis today by Tom Price, Secretary of Health and Human Services. Today’s briefing comes a little more than a week after President Trump’s bipartisan opioid commission released interim recommendations calling for the declaration of a national emergency that would prioritize a federal government response to the crisis and greater access to medication-assisted treatment and naloxone.
“We need to be cautious about the intentions of this administration,” said Grant Smith, deputy director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. “An emergency declaration can be used for good. It can help free up federal resources, help prioritize responses by the federal government, help give the administration leverage to request legislation from Congress.”
“On the other hand, declaring a national emergency could be used to further the war on drugs,” said Smith. “It could give the administration leverage to push for new sentencing legislation, or legislation that enhances drug penalties or a law enforcement response. It could give Jeff Sessions more leverage to push the agenda that he has been pushing.”
Officially there has been no reaction from the White House about the opioid commission’s recommendations, although advocates say they contrast sharply from the Trump administration’s overall response to the opioid crisis to date. For instance, President Trump made repeal of the Affordable Care Act a top priority, which would threaten healthcare and access to treatment and mental health services for millions of people living with substance use disorder.
Trump’s Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, has repeatedly dismissed the value of treatment and pursued a hardline agenda that has escalated the war on drugs. Sessions declared that the opioid crisis is a “winnable war” and urged law enforcement to pursue prosecutions for illegal possession of prescriptions just two days after the opioid commission released its interim report that called for a health-based response.
“President Trump’s bipartisan opioid commission makes clear that this crisis demands a health-based response,” said Smith. “So far, Attorney General Sessions’s escalation of the war on drugs and President Trump’s attempts to take away healthcare and treatment from millions of people is extremely worrisome. To date, the Trump Administration’s response to the opioid crisis is an epic fail.”
Advocates say that the opioid commission’s recommendations reflect a dire need to treat the opioid overdose crisis as a health issue and not a criminal issue. The Trump Administration and Congress should prioritize scaling up access to the overdose-reversal drug naloxone and medication-assisted treatment, like methadone and buprenorphine, and resist efforts to expand the use of mandatory minimum sentences and criminalization.