Voters who President Donald Trump wooed with promises to tackle opioid abuse and addiction head on say they “feel betrayed” by his lack of action.
A pledge to help those struggling with addiction reform their lives proved to be key in convincing lifelong Democrats in states hit hard by the opioid epidemic to cast their ballots for Trump. Early in the campaign, Trump attended a roundtable discussion on rampant opioid abuse in New Hampshire, which experienced a 94 percent increase in synthetic opioid deaths between 2014 and 2015, reports CNN.
The president promised those in attendance he would boost funding to the state and expand access to local clinics, winning over the votes of many lifelong Democrats who said Trump talking about his own family’s past experience with addiction won their trust.
“I didn’t expect it to be fixed, but I expected something,” Erin Canterbury, a recovering addict and a self-described Democratic voter, told CNN. “He hasn’t done anything thus far. I don’t want to say I completely regret it. But he hasn’t done anything.”
Trump outperformed his rival Republican candidates with rural voters in areas hit particularly hard by addiction and won 18 of the 25 states with the highest rates of overdose deaths in the election.
Trump appointed a bipartisan group of lawmakers to a White House commission addressing the opioid crisis May 10, with GOP New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie at the helm. Trump signed an executive order creating the commission on March 29 and required interim recommendations for addressing opioid addiction within 90 days and final recommendations by the fall.
Addiction advocates, like Canterbury, criticize the commission for not doing enough to urgently address rising overdose deaths from painkillers and heroin in their states.
“It was promising to hear President Trump talk about his commitment to the opioid epidemic during the campaign, and we certainly expect him to follow through on his commitment to addressing opioid addiction,” Carrie Wade, harm reduction policy director for the R Street Institute, told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “However, I encourage people to get involved in community and state-level efforts that can have a much bigger impact at home. Harm reduction programs that have proven effects on preventing overdose and disease transmission and also provide another point of contact to encourage those who use drugs to consider treatment, often start really close to home.”
A record 33,000 Americans died from opioid related overdoses in 2015, according to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention. The deaths contributed to the first drop in U.S. life expectancy since 1993 and eclipse deaths from motor vehicle accidents.
The White House sparked outrage May 5 when news surfaced Trump planned to cut the budget for the Office of National Drug Control Policy by 95 percent in his forthcoming budget proposal. The proposal, expected to be released in full at the end of May, allegedly calls for funding to be slashed from $388 million to $24 million.
Bipartisan critics say the cuts appear to contradict pledges from Trump to curb drug abuse. Activists are also worried Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ recent announcement that he will pursue harsher criminal penalties for crimes involving opioids will undermine efforts to treat those suffering from addiction.
Dr. Marc Siegel, an analyst with Fox News, argues there is little evidence backing up claims harsher prosecutions will curb opioid and other drug abuse. Siegel notes a study the National Institutes of Health conducted in 2009 showing a focus on addiction treatment reduces crime and betters public health.
“This is why I am very concerned about Mr. Sessions’ intention to increase criminal penalties associated with opioids and ask him to take the advice of public health experts who agree that increased criminalization of drug use further marginalizes those who use drugs and leads to increased incidence of disease and death,” Wade told TheDCNF. “I think a starting point to addressing the opioid epidemic is continued community-level harm reduction initiatives that directly address addiction as a disease and not as criminal activity.”
The White House commission is reviewing existing programs tackling drug abuse and treatment and will make final recommendations to Trump by Oct. 1.
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