On Thursday, October 26th, President Trump announced that he was officially declaring America’s opioid epidemic a public health emergency, action that was met with mixed reviews from addiction recovery advocates and addiction experts. Declaring the opioid crisis a public health emergency is different than declaring it a national emergency and it differs in two ways: Money and scope. The difference of declaring the current opioid crisis a public health emergency under the Public Health Services Act, and not a national emergency, is that no additional federal funding with be directed to the epidemic and instead federal agencies will be directed to reallocate grant money already in their budgets towards solving the problem while taking “action to overcome bureaucratic delays and inefficiencies.” Additional actions, according to the President’s plan and press conference, include increased law enforcement of Americans who are buying illegal drugs, the building of his promised wall on the border of the United States and Mexico, and perhaps even a “really big, really great” advertising campaign aimed at drug prevention to make sure people never start using drugs in the first place, similar to the Nancy Reagan “Just Say No” campaign of the 1980’s.
President Trump’s action, although perhaps a step in the right direction, demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of addiction, a fundamental misunderstanding of the current systemic problems facing Americans regarding addiction and is just another situation where government as a whole has failed to properly address the ongoing addiction crisis in America and offer practical solutions to stem the tide and fix the problem. While some praised the president on following through on his campaign promise to take action regarding the opioid epidemic and others criticized his plan for not going nearly far enough in addressing the issue, there is one overriding sentiment that Americans should be realizing from this situation: As much as we wish it would, government will not or cannot fix America’s addiction problem.
As much as it would be simple and quick to expect that the government will be the entity Americans can turn to in order to fix the addiction crisis currently plaguing the country, the truth of our collective experience is that such a thing is not going to happen. Whether it is a fundamental misunderstanding of addiction or the fact that government, too bogged down in bureaucratic issues and too handcuffed by red tape, has never and most likely will never be able to appropriately or efficiently handle such a crisis. Addiction is much more complex than a natural disaster or a health crisis like Zika and requires more comprehensive solutions than more funding or emergency FEMA camps. The nature of government is that it acts slowly, methodically and too often driven by financial influence. Partially, government is to blame for the opioid epidemic, allowing influence by Big Pharma to increase the access to opioids and loosen the restrictions that have brought us the epidemic proportions in the first place. Additionally, it is the nature of government to find the cheapest, quickest solutions to a problem and the addiction epidemic will not be fixed by good optics, positive headlines or quick fixes.
Government can certainly help and aid in supportive solutions that will stem the tide, but those calling for tons of money from government to open up thousands of more treatment beds in each state have clearly missed years of evidence as to how government operates. It is 2017 and we are still hearing from government officials about locking up substance use disorder sufferers and building walls to keep drugs from coming in from Mexico. This is both ignorant and uninformed.
America’s opioid epidemic and the overall addiction epidemic impacting the country requires a multifaceted approach of comprehensive solutions. And none will be cut and dry or black and white. Behavioral health issues to not work like that. There needs to be prevention initiatives, educational initiatives, harm reduction strategies, more access to long-term treatment and long-term recovery supports. The country needs to understand addiction is a disease and what the proper ways to address and treat that disease is in terms of each person’s individual needs. Educational systems and communities must be educated and offered prevention techniques. Health insurance needs to cover adequate treatment over a long-term period of time in order to treat the chronic, progressive disease of addiction. Hospital systems and healthcare facilities must be trained in how to approach sufferers of addiction and aid them in getting access to care. Higher education and colleges must provide proper collegiate recovery support. NIMBY issues must be overcome so that treatment centers and recovery homes can operate in order to support community recovery options. Stigma must be broken and access to care increased. And we need all of this tomorrow. Government does not operate like that and if we sit back and wait for it to bring us solutions to this problem, more people will die, more families will be devastated and broken and more communities impacted perhaps beyond repair.
Rather than looking to government to fix the problem, we should be pushing them to aid and support solutions. With support from government, the non-profit sector and private sector will be where most of the solutions must come from. Educators, researchers, universities, treatment centers and the like will be the providers of solutions for America. The driving force will be America’s communities, ravaged by addiction and fed up with being left to the wayside as their loved ones die. These entities, more efficient, flexible and dynamic and able to implement solutions in such a crisis will be where the country must look to in order to find solutions for the addiction problem. We need the help of government in this epidemic, but if we are looking for government to fix the problem we are looking in the wrong direction.
If you or someone you know is in need of help because of drug and/or alcohol abuse or addiction, please give us a call. Maryland Addiction Recovery Center offers the most comprehensive dual diagnosis addiction treatment in the Mid-Atlantic area. If we aren’t the best fit for you or your loved one, we will take the necessary time to work with you to find a treatment center or provider that better fits your needs. Please give us a call at (410) 773-0500 or email our team at [email protected]. For more information on all of our drug addiction and alcohol addiction services and recovery resources, please visit our web site at www.marylandaddictionrecovery.com.