For Democrats looking to take on President Trump in the upcoming election, his head-on approach to tackling the opioid epidemic sweeping the nation will prove to be a serious hurdle to overcome.
Traditionally, Democrats have been known as the party with the greatest “claim” to healthcare issues, however, Trump’s administration has made notable progress in addressing the opioid crisis, which leaves his 2020 opponents with less ammunition.
Now, as the election looms overhead and political squabbling leaves DC bitterly divided, The Trump administration has been able to tackle issues like the opioid crisis and criminal justice reform which have been seemingly forgotten by Democrats.
President Donald Trump’s focus on the opioid crisis may strengthen his bond with poor, disaffected voters in hard-hit places like Appalachia that are a bedrock of his base. But the administration, for all its efforts, has not yet reversed the tide of the deadly epidemic.
The Trump administration’s response to the crisis of painkiller addictions and overdoses poses an unusual challenge for Democrats, who otherwise have claimed the electoral advantage on health issues during the Trump era. The White House can accurately point to signs of progress: Opioids prescriptions are down dramatically from their peak in 2012, early data suggests that overdose deaths are slowing, and the crisis is getting far more urgency and attention.
“We will never stop until our job is done,” Trump declared at an opioid summit in Atlanta this spring. “We have results that are unbelievable … We’re making tremendous progress.”
Democrats aren’t ceding the issue — presidential candidates like Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar have called for a much more aggressive counterattack and a whole lot more spending. Still, White House drug czar Jim Carroll says the Trump approach is finally addressing a crisis that flourished unabated during the Bush and Obama years.
We are absolutely making progress,” Carroll told POLITICO in a recent interview. “It’s too soon to say we are turning the corner, but we now have the national attention and the spotlight on this issue. We’re reducing stigma, we’re getting more people to provide medication assisted treatment.”
“We are making a difference,” Carroll said. “We just need to continue to push hard.”
The team of top health officials helming the response includes several who weren’t in place when Trump declared a national opioid emergency in 2017. They include Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, who assumed his post in January 2018, and Carroll, who was sworn in January 2019. That’s a contrast to a year ago, when the White House had no confirmed drug czar and Kellyanne Conway, a political strategist with no public health background, was running point on the crisis.
And while much of Trump’s own rhetoric around the crisis focuses on “building a wall” and punishing dealers, his administration has emphasized a public health approach, addressing addiction as a disease instead of a crime.
Congress has also responded, and it’s been bipartisan. Lawmakers have passed two major pieces legislation focused on all aspects of the crisis, from public health to law enforcement. It’s directed billions of dollars to states to get the crisis under control.
Public health experts generally say the administration’s efforts on opioids are doing some good. But those steps don’t address the overarching problem of drug addiction, they say. Most of the administration’s policies target people struggling with opioids, while other drug-related deaths are also on the rise.
“It’s still a very acute approach to a chronic problem,” said Andrew Kessler, founder and principle of Slingshot Solutions. “I’m still not seeing a comprehensive response for the disease of addiction.”