Trump Outlines Strategy to Address Opioid Epidemic, Focuses Largely on Law Enforcement Approach

On Monday, President Donald Trump unveiled his Administration’s wide-ranging plan to address the nation’s opioid epidemic, vowing to “liberate” the country from the crisis. Recall, President Trump convened an opioid commission last year to identify recommended interventions, declared the opioid epidemic a public health emergency five months ago, and hosted an opioid epidemic summit at the White House last month. As a result of these actions, President Trump detailed a three-pronged method focused on reducing access to prescription opioid drugs, increasing treatment and recovery support services, and taking a tougher law enforcement approach to the issue.

Monday’s address to a large crowd in New Hampshire—one of the states that has been impacted most significantly by the epidemic—largely focused on how to crack down on the opioid epidemic yet provided few concrete details around how the Administration plans to address the increasing number of opioid overdoses and deaths throughout the country. Trump’s strategy did include increasing access to treatment and recovery services, ensuring prescribers are following best practices for prescribing opioids, and expanded research into less-addictive pain-reducing drugs. Overall, the plan seeks to reduce the number of opioid prescriptions filled by one-third within three years. Trump also highlighted the need for increased access to naloxone in schools and for first responders.

However during the address, Trump continued to stress a tougher law enforcement approach to the issue as a hallmark of his Administration’s strategy. He pitched utilizing mandatory minimum sentences and the death penalty for individuals who traffic illicit opioid drugs such as heroin and fentanyl. Attorney General Jeff Sessions was in the audience on Monday and echoed President Trump’s sentiments, indicating in a statement that the Department of Justice intends to “aggressively prosecute drug traffickers” and “seek the death penalty wherever appropriate.”

Experts in the opioid epidemic, including professionals and practitioners in addiction and public health, expressed concerns with Trump’s law enforcement-heavy approach to the opioid crisis. Experts and scholars noted that while law enforcement is a necessary element of addressing the issue, a focus on prevention and treatment services is needed. There are many outstanding questions amongst experts around the cost and funding of the Trump Administration’s strategy to address the epidemic and specifically how the Administration plans to implement these interventions. With the latest data indicating 64,000 drug overdose deaths in the U.S. in 2016 alone, experts continue urge an immediate, comprehensive, and evidence-based approach to the opioid epidemic to decrease the number of overdoses and related deaths.

An overview of the Trump Administration’s opioid epidemic strategy is available from the White House here.