To Solve Opioid Crisis, President Trump Needs To Acknowledge Who Caused It

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Mytheos Holt Policy Analyst
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“We can be the generation that ends the opioid epidemic. We can do it.”

So went one of the most stirring lines in President Trump’s recent address on the most deadly epidemic of recent years, the international opioid crisis. Trump is to be commended for taking the issue seriously enough to devote such a prominent public address to it, and for proposing a whole host of policies to combat the rising tide of painkiller addiction. Vann Newkirk at The Atlantic provides a succinct list of these, including the declaration of a national public health emergency, relaxing rules requiring in-person doctor’s appointments for drug abuse treatment, an an $81 million initiative from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Department of Defense (DoD) to award grants related to treating opioid addiction in veterans. These three policies, at least, could do real good in combatting the crisis.

More troubling, however, was that President Trump proposed a public-private partnership between the National Institutes of Health and pharmaceutical companies to develop non-addictive painkillers. On its face, this might not seem like such a bad idea, but for anyone who knows the history of the opioid crisis, there is a gaping problem: expecting the pharmaceutical industry to seriously help solve this crisis is like making Walter White a spokesman against meth addiction.

It will likely never be politic in the bought-and-paid-for swamp environs of Washington to point this out, but it remains true that the pharmaceutical industry is almost wholly responsible for the opioid crisis. It was their attempts to strong-arm doctors into prescribing ever more painkillers for the sake of driving up their profits that produced this nightmare. Indeed, President Trump’s choice for Drug Czar was forced to withdraw for helping to facilitate this anti-public health campaign on behalf of Big Pharma. One pauses to note that it is not merely their aggressive tactics that marks Pharma as akin to drug dealers in this instance, but also their prices, which very likely drive many addicted Americans into the arms of actual criminals. But hey, Pharma doesn’t care about ignoring the rule of law itself, why should it care about that?

Thanks to the industry’s greed, lives have not only been lost and ruined, but America’s labor force has been attenuated in brutal ways. According to a report by Princeton scholar Alan Krueger, fully one fifth of America’s male workforce has dropped off since 1999, and over a quarter of women have vanished over the same time period, due to the spike in opioid abuse among America’s working class. State governments have recognized this poisoned fruit of pharma’s actions, and have been steadily taking action to hold the industry accountable for it. Yet in Washington, still, nothing has been done to prevent the abuses that led to the crisis, despite the culpability staring everyone in the face.

President Trump, of all people, should be better than this. This is the same man who decried pharmaceutical companies for “getting away with murder” on the campaign trail, and in his recent interview with Lou Dobbs of Fox Business, bemoaned the power of the industry to cut off reform at the heels in DC thanks to their massive checkbooks. What is more, Trump’s speech on the opioid crisis included stern warnings to drug dealers and purveyors of what he referred to as “poison.” You would think that included with those warnings would be some words of rebuke to Big Pharma for having acted effectively as the most well-heeled drug dealers in recent memory. Perhaps one could even hope that Jeff Sessions would be freed to follow in the footsteps of states like Ohio and Missouri, and introduce strict legal remedies to prevent another opioid crisis from coming down the pike. Certainly, that kind of action would put the fear of God in pharma and be more preventative than all the money the president could throw at the problem.

Instead, likely thanks to the Conservatism, Inc. worldview that has captured Trump’s White House from the inside, pharma has once more been welcomed into partnership with the federal government by this White House. The fingerprints of Eli Lilly’s old pal Mike Pence are all over this sniveling acquiescence to the people responsible for loosing death and pain upon the United States to pad their bottom line, even though Pence’s boss, the actual President of the United States, ran against everything that Eli Lilly would hope to get from Washington.

So yes, the president deserves credit for trying to tackle the opioid crisis. But throwing good money after bad and vesting local governments with the power to do more to help those already afflicted is only solving half the problem. So long as the President lets people who have been bought and paid for the industry responsible for the problem in the first place, fighting epidemics of drug abuse will remain a game of whack-a-mole.

Views expressed in op-eds are not the views of The Daily Caller.