President Trump’s declaration that opioid abuse is a public health emergency is sparking debate about addiction. Tragically, myths and misinformation are blocking the path to preventing more deaths.
Start with the causes of the opioid crisis. On “Face the Nation,” New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, chair of Trump’s opioid commission, blamed overprescribing doctors. “This crisis started not on a street corner somewhere. This crisis started in the doctor’s offices and hospitals of America.” That’s untrue, Governor.
It contradicts scientific evidence and lets drug abusers off the hook. At least three-quarters of opioid pill abusers and almost all heroin addicts got hooked without ever having been prescribed pain medication for an injury or illness, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Emergency room records show only a fraction – 13 percent — of opioid overdose victims began taking drugs because of pain, according to the medical journal JAMA Internal Medicine. The media feature many stories about patients who needed pain killers and later became addicts, but these are exceptions, not the rule.
Experimenting with opioids — whether heroin or pills — is almost always a choice. A bad choice. Young adults account for 90 percent of first-time abusers. To protect the next generation from making that mistake, Trump proposes a “massive advertising campaign to get people, especially children, not to want to take drugs in the first place.” The liberal media mock Trump’s proposal as a throwback to the 1980s, but in fact he’s on the mark.
For decades, popular music has glamorized drug use. Late-night host Jimmy Kimmel pays lip service to tackling tough political issues, but his guest lineup this week includes Ty Dolla $ign, whose music videos showcase drug use.
Trump’s offering an alternative message. History proves it can work. In 2012 and 2014, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ran hard hitting and graphic ads against smoking, with ex-smokers talking about their own lung disease, cancer and other miseries. The ads cut smoking among youth and convinced 400,000 smokers to quit for good. Trump’s campaign should be just as terrifying. Show hospitalized teens with their arms amputated because of infections from heroin needles and brain-damaged overdose victims in nursing homes.
Warning about opioid abuse sounds like a no-brainer. So why do activists like Kassandra Frederique of the Drug Policy Alliance deplore “the persistent stigma of drug use”? As if we’re not supposed to hurt addicts’ feelings. With drug overdose deaths at record highs, that’s misguided.
You no longer see smoking in movies or on television. Stigmatizing cigarettes worked. So why de-stigmatize opioids? We can help those already hooked without doing that.
Christie calls addiction a “disease.” It’s true that some people succumb to it more than others. But new research suggests the disease metaphor could be hurtful. Addicts who believe they have the free will to quit have a much higher success rate than those who think of themselves as diseased, according to new research from the University of Minnesota and Florida State University. Quitting Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s isn’t possible, but getting off drugs is.
Harvard professor Gene Heyman insists addicts can choose to stop using drugs once “the penalties for excessive use become overwhelming,” such as losing their job or their kids.
Half of addicts who quit do it without treatment. The drug treatment industry doesn’t want you to know that. The industry’s salivating for more public funds, and joining Democrats in bashing Trump for not spending more. But he’s right. Families exhaust their savings and taxpayers foot ever-mounting bills for treatment despite a dismal success rate (under 30 percent) at most rehabs.
To save lives and get better results for the $50 billion already being spent yearly, Washington needs to stop pinning the blame on the medical community, scrap political correctness and turn to the research. And most important, bombard young people with warnings against ever trying drugs.
Betsy McCaughey is a senior fellow at the London Center for Policy Research and a former lieutenant governor of New York State. Contact her at [email protected] To find out more about Betsy McCaughey and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.