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Trump And Biden Are Bringing 2 Different Strategies To The Opioid Epidemic. Will It Give Trump An Edge?

(Photo by JIM WATSON / AFP via Getty Images)

Bradley Devlin General Assignment & Analysis Reporter
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The ongoing opioid crisis that has taken the lives of nearly half a million Americans disproportionately affects several crucial states in the 2020 election, and how the candidates plan to address it — or not — during their campaigns could have important electoral implications.

The opioid crisis has disproportionately impacted several states in play for the 2020 election, such as Pennsylvania, Ohio, New Hampshire and Michigan, which have the fourth, fifth, sixth, and 17th-highest drug overdose death rate in 2018. A number of states, such as Florida and Minnesota (two crucial states in 2020), have seen their drug overdose death rate decrease over the course of the President Donald Trump’s time in office.

Republicans highlighted Trump’s policy record on the issue and brought in a speaker to address the topic. The Democrats, on the other hand, decided not to talk about it at all.

New Mexico police officer Ryan Holets recounted how he had seen opiates destroy communities. In 2017, Holets said he responded to a call where he found a homeless pregnant woman preparing to shoot up heroin. The Holets family went on to adopt the woman’s daughter. The woman is now three years clean, and Holets said they remain close friends.

“President Trump declared the opioid crisis to be a public health emergency and then secured $6 billion in new federal funding to help Americans fight opioid abuse,” Holets said. “He invested an additional $100 million to stop the opioid crisis in rural America and in a move that strikes at the root of the problem, he implemented a safer prescribing plan aimed at reducing opioid prescriptions by over a third within three years.”

While Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden does have an extensive plan to beat back substance abuse called “The Biden Plan To End The Opioid Crisis,” Democrats were mute on the issue of drug addiction and abuse over the course of their convention.

Democrats failed to utter the words “addiction,” “opioid,” or “overdoses” a single time during their primetime programming of their convention, according to VOX.

Some critics have even argued that Biden’s policy history accelerated the opioid epidemic we are experiencing now.

Over 446,000 Americans have died from opioid drug overdoses from 1999 to 2018, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data. There were nearly 800,000 total drug overdose deaths over the same time period. 

In 2017, at the height of the opioid crisis, more than two-thirds of drug-related deaths were attributed to opioids and 47,600 people died.

In 2018, opioid-related deaths decreased for the first time in at least 30 years. While that came as welcome news, death tolls remained in the thousands for a number of crucial states in the 2020 election.

In 2018, Pennsylvania lost 4,415 lives to drug overdoses, Ohio lost another 3,980, Michigan 2,591, Arizona 1,670, North Carolina 2,259 and Florida 4,698.

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 24: Flanked by lawmakers and first lady Melania Trump, U.S. President Donald Trump participates in a bill signing to dedicate more resources to fight the opioid crisis during an East Room event at the White House October 24, 2018 in Washington, DC.(Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON, DC – OCT. 24: Flanked by lawmakers and first lady Melania Trump, U.S. President Donald Trump participates in a bill signing to dedicate more resources to fight the opioid crisis during an East Room event at the White House Oct. 24, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Biden seems intent on not repeating Hillary Clinton’s massive mistake of not visiting Wisconsin and other swing states before the 2016 election. But are the Biden campaign and Democrats making a blunder of the same magnitude by eschewing the opioid issue on the campaign trail?

Despite the coronavirus pandemic and economic uncertainty, Trump has mostly been performing better across swing states like Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Florida, Arizona and North Carolina than he did in 2016, according to the Real Clear Politics battleground state poll average.

While Biden has retained a polling lead in absolute terms against Trump the entirety of the general election cycle, Biden only performed better than Hillary Clinton against Trump in battle ground polling from mid June to early August, an advantage he seems to have lost since.

The day after the RNC, Trump saw his best 2020 performance in the battleground state polls relative to 2016 since May, performing a full two points better than he did against Clinton in 2016 at that point in time.