The inauguration of U.S. President Donald J. Trump brought with it many more questions than answers when it comes to the country’s drug policies and its prevailing War on Drugs. Despite his constant attention on issues regarding the price of drugs and medication, Trump has been largely quiet on his views on illegal drugs and efforts to combat the growing problem of addiction in America.
However, his actions have started to speak louder than words. The administration’s moves in that direction led many experts in the field to question whether the current administration’s new policies and key officials will forge a new path in the fight against the opiates and Heroin epidemic.
Public Menace or Public Health Issue?
Since its inception during Richard Nixon’s presidency, the U.S.’ War on Drugs has become a flashpoint in the conversation about drugs and how they are treated by society. Nearly 40 years after Nixon’s press conference announcing the new policy, the War on Drugs is a more contentious issue than ever before. Following decades of treating the issue as a crime and safety matter, the U.S. has little to show in terms of real results. The supply lines that continue to pour in illegal drugs throughout the country remain largely unblocked. Even with President Trump’s “Build A Wall” policy, right now drug addiction rates in the U.S. ― especially opioid addiction ― continue to rise.
The statistics do not lie. Despite a ramping-up of aggressive policies in both the domestic and foreign arenas, drug addiction and abuse are on the rise, as well as prison populations and criminality. Even though the U.S. spends over $51 billion on the war on drugs annually, drug addiction reached a peak in 2016, and arrests continue to skyrocket even for minor offenses. The U.S. is already the leader in incarcerated population per capita, and in 2015 alone there were over 1.48 million arrests related to drug laws (1.29 million were for simple possession). That same year, drug overdose was the leading cause of accidental death in the country, with 52,404 reported casualties; 12,990 of those were from heroin use.
With the start of the Trump administration, it points towards aggressively defending our borders and stopping the flow heroin from outside the United States. For one, Trump’s appointment of Jeff Sessions, a staunch defender of the War on Drugs, as the U.S. attorney general ― as well as campaign proclamations favoring tougher policing and heavier enforcement ― have raised questions about the future of the drug war. It appears the current administration has little intention of winding down the ineffective methods advocated by several former presidents.
Moving Towards a More Holistic Approach
Despite the current—and former—administration’s seeming push to continue escalating the war on drugs, several organizations have started treating the problem of addiction in a more comprehensive and public-health oriented way. Instead of treating drug users as criminals, these groups argue they should be given the help they need to successfully kick their habits and return to society healed. Groups such as US Addiction, which manages several rehabilitation centers aimed at providing an individualized and holistic approach to drug treatment, have made great strides in proving that drug addiction should be considered a health issue, and not result in more arrests and needless violence.
Moreover, there are new and effective treatment methods that have shown promise. The introduction of Narcan, a nasal spray that can block the effects of opioid use, and the wonder drug Vivitrol has organizations optimistic that more solutions can be created. As it stands, the makers of Narcan and Vivitrol are aiming to provide unrestricted access to their product. Leaders, like U.S. addiction centers, would like to see both products distributed for free to save lives faster. This would and could help save lives by the thousands.
Advocacy groups have fought fiercely to re-frame the conversation on the current drug epidemic as an issue that needs to be solved by helping the people most affected by it. While it is still too early to tell how Trump’s drug policies will develop, more organizations will continue to advocate for an end to the war on drugs, and a start to the war on addiction through restorative means.