One reason that President Barack Obama took major steps last year to halt the nation’s opioid crisis was to shift the public’s attitude from blanket condemnation about drug addiction to one of confidence that it can be avoided by education and that addicts can be cured with the right support. Now President Trump, in an Oct. 26 order of a public health emergency, has endorsed this approach.
Mr. Trump’s actions in directing more federal resources to this complex problem reflect an emerging national consensus that prevention and treatment, as much as law enforcement of the opioid trade, will work to reverse the rising death toll.
“We can be the generation that ends the opioid epidemic,” Trump said.
Under the federal emergency, addicts in rural areas – where much of the problem lies – will find it easier to obtain treatment. States will be allowed to use special funds for treatment. And federal dollars will flow to education campaigns aimed at children.
While better medical intervention with addicts is needed, it is just as important to support the best treatment and recovery programs. Addicts must be viewed not as victims of a chronic brain disease or only as criminals but as capable of overcoming patterns of behavior. As neuroscientist – and former drug addict – Marc Lewis wrote in a memoir, addicts can be enticed to have a “powerful surge” toward goals other than using drugs – “goals about their relationships and feeling whole, connected and under control.”
States are on the front line in solving this epidemic. Massachusetts, Ohio, Vermont, New Hampshire, and other hard-hit states are coming up with innovative approaches. But the key is public support of addiction treatment – and more treatment centers. More federal support will help, especially if it is grounded in replacing a fatalistic view of addicts as flawed in character with one that empowers them with hope and certainty about living a drug-free life.
The public, like government, can play a major role in ensuring that addicts are given that opportunity and hope.