The Trump administration will not declare a public health emergency related to the opioid epidemic, dismissing the top recommendation his own blue-ribbon commission called for a week ago. The commission argued such a declaration was critical to unlock emergency funding and expand treatment.
Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price said at a Tuesday news conference that public health emergencies have traditionally been limited to specific areas of the country, like after Hurricane Sandy. “We believe… that the resources that we need, or the focus that we need to bring to bear to the opioid crisis at this point can be addressed without the declaration of an emergency,” Price said.
Some experts might react to Trump declining to invoke an emergency with a sigh of relief; lots of mischief could be accomplished with such expanded powers. But in remarks at a hastily arranged “major briefing,” the president seemed to want to respond to an epidemic that took over 33,000 lives in 2015 (numbers that could be underreported, according to a new study) with a time warp to the failed policies of the 1980s.
“The best way to prevent drug addiction and overdose is to prevent people from abusing drugs in the first place,” Trump said from his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey. “So if we can keep them from going on and maybe by talking to youth and telling them: ‘No good, really bad for you in every way.'”
If you were reminded of Nancy Reagan’s cameo on Diff’rent Strokes, you’re not alone. But “Just Say No” didn’t work as a policy 35 years ago — teenagers in programs like DARE were as likely to use drugs as those who weren’t. It also initiated the school-to-prison pipeline by creating “drug-free schools” and other policies of overcriminalization. And it’s particularly useless for an opioid epidemic where adolescents aged 12-17 represent a little more than one-tenth of those affected.
Even if a just-say-no policy could reduce to zero the number of new people who initiate heroin use, that would still leave a massive population of people living with substance use disorders, all of them at risk of overdose and death.