According to the Associated Press, President Donald Trump recently touted progress in addressing the opioid crisis, a phenomenon that took the lives of 48,000 Americans in 2017.
Two million Americans are estimated to be addicted to prescription opioids, as well as illegal heroin and fentanyl. Trump pledged that the effort to solve the crisis would continue “until the job is done.”
While Trump is using the powers of the presidency to do battle against the scourge of opioids, First Lady Melania Trump is pitching in, visiting treatment centers and hospitals and meeting with health care professionals in an effort to raise awareness of the problem.
Thus, while the president is wielding the “hard power” of the executive, the First Lady is pursuing the “soft power” of persuasion and public relations.
How did the opioid crisis come upon America? According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the problem has been decades in coming.
“In the late 1990s, pharmaceutical companies reassured the medical community that patients would not become addicted to prescription opioid pain relievers, and healthcare providers began to prescribe them at greater rates. This subsequently led to widespread diversion and misuse of these medications before it became clear that these medications could indeed be highly addictive.”
Opioids, properly prescribed and used, can be a god send for people dealing with short term pain, such as happens after surgery or a bone fracture.
But, as the Mayo Clinic notes, opioids are very dangerous for dealing with chronic pain.
They are not only highly addictive but can affect judgement and cause a number of side effects. The price of getting rid of chronic pain can lead to addiction or even death due to an overdose.
People who find themselves addicted to opioids find themselves doctor shopping to get more of the drug than can be safely used.
Addicts will sometimes turn to heroin or fentanyl, which the drug cartels will happily provide for a steep price.
The Trump administration is attacking the opioid crisis on a number of fronts.
It is pouring money into treatment programs designed to ween addicts from opioids and also drugs that will counteract overdoses.
The White House is also stepping up law enforcement efforts to stem the flow of illegal drugs into the United States, Part of the reason Trump is so keen to build the southern border wall is to stop the drug flow, though some critics note that most illegal drugs are smuggled into the country in vehicles crossing at official check points.
The government is also putting money into research and development of pain management drugs that, unlike opioids, are not highly addictive.
The search for alternate relief for chronic pain has, ironically, led some people to tout another illegal drug, at least on the federal level, as a solution. According to the National Academy of Sciences:
“Cannabinoids have shown significant promise in basic experiments on pain. Peripheral nerves that detect pain sensations contain abundant receptors for cannabinoids, and cannabinoids appear to block peripheral nerve pain in experimental animals.
Even more encouraging, basic studies suggest that opiates and cannabinoids suppress pain through different mechanisms.
If that is the case, marijuana-based medicines could perhaps be combined with opiates to boost their pain-relieving power while limiting their side effects.”
Despite the fact that medical marijuana and even the recreational kind has become legal in an increasing number of states, pot is still prohibited on the federal level.
That fact has inhibited research into the pain suppression properties of marijuana, not to mention allowing it in a clinical setting.
Finally, while President Trump is upbeat about the results of his efforts to stem the opioid crisis, others are not so sure.
Keith Humphreys, who has advised presidents of both parties on drug policy, suggests that the results have been mixed, at best, and not really due to any efforts on the part of the Trump administration.
Humphreys also disputes the idea that cannabis and opioids used together would be a good solution to pain management, according to Medpage Today.
One thing is for certain. The opioid crisis is not going to be solved in a single year or even a few years.
Stopping the flow of illegal drugs and coming up with better pain management therapies will take a long time.
But at least the Trump administration has made a good start,