Saturday, November 18, 2017
By Janine Jackson, FAIR | Interview
Janine Jackson: Donald Trump called on the Department of Health and Human Services to declare a "public health emergency," stating, in what the New York Times called "an elaborate and emotional ceremony," that opioids represent "the worst drug crisis in American history and even, if you really think about it, world history."
As is often the case, it wasn't exactly clear what he was talking about, but media aren't always much clearer. Is the crisis overdose deaths? Opiates themselves? Their overprescription? Their use? Addiction? The issues that lead to addiction? You don't need to be in denial about a problem to recognize that the definition of the problem will affect the response. And when it comes to the "war on drugs" in this country, it's not as though there is no record to check.
So what does Trump's recent declaration mean, and what possible responses to problems associated with opioids are existing, but maybe not mentioned? We're joined now by Maria McFarland Sánchez-Moreno, executive director of Drug Policy Alliance. Welcome to CounterSpin, Maria McFarland Sánchez-Moreno.
Maria McFarland Sánchez-Moreno: Thanks so much for having me.
JJ: I've heard Trump's declaration of a public health emergency around opioids described as "good but not enough," "good but it needs money attached." We can be grateful for official attention, which we know is meaningful, but if a policy is wrongheaded or misdirected, it's hard to wish that it had more fuel behind it. I wonder if you can just walk us through some of the things that you found problematic or that concerned you about Trump's declaration.
MMSM: Yeah, so, I wouldn't call his declaration "good." I would say that there were a couple of good proposals buried in there that might mitigate some of the harm of the overdose crisis. But overwhelmingly, his speech just betrayed ignorance, and perhaps deliberate indifference to the realities underlying drugs and drug use in the United States. And if the US really pursues the path that he has charted in his rhetoric, it's a recipe for more overdose deaths, continued harsh war on drugs, and no real meaningful progress.
JJ: You have said that the war on drugs is a factor in the overdose crisis. What do you mean by that?
MMSM: A big part of the problem here is the war on drugs itself, the fact that for over 50 years, the US has been focusing on strictly prohibiting access to certain types of drugs, and using criminal justice responses to deal with them. As a result, people who use drugs are often doing so underground, in ways that make it much more likely that they will overdose; much more likely that they will encounter substances that have been adulterated, for example with fentanyl, and have no way to check them; much more likely that they will not have basic information about how to mitigate risk.
For example, a huge number of the overdoses that we're seeing right now have to do with mixing substances, with mixing opioids and alcohol or mixing opioids and benzodiazepine. Those deaths perhaps could be prevented if people knew that mixing was a major factor in overdose. But right now, public education on drugs doesn't really get into those issues.
And what Trump was proposing in his speech was a return to "just say no"–style ad campaigns and education campaigns from the 1980s, which are what the Reagans pushed, and were proven to be utterly ineffective, because young people tend to dismiss them as patronizing and not based on reality.
Yeah. I mean, "just say no," I think many people thought that that was kind of a punchline at this point. But now it's being reintroduced as actual policy, and Donald Trump has said of opioids, and of drugs in general, "It's really, really easy not to take them." And it seems sort of emblematic of a bifurcation, of a difference, where some people think if you talk about drugs -- the same as sex -- if you talk about it, that's going to make people do it. And so what we really need to say is, no, that's not acceptable, you won't do that, that's not going to happen. And then you don't get any clarity about what happens if it happens.
Yeah. I think we need to talk about a fundamental shift in the way we frame drug issues. I think we need to as a society, and certainly the government needs to, recognize that drug use is a fact, that there are always going to be some people in society who use drugs, whether they're legal or not. Then you have to look at, OK, some people are going to use drugs, some people will misuse drugs. How can you reduce the likelihood that people will misuse drugs, and that they will have the whole host of problems that are associated with misuse? And how can you mitigate the risks that the worst things will happen, like overdose?
TO CONTINUE READING: http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/42611-we-need-a-fundamental-shift-in-the-way-we-frame-drug-issues