With the Centers for Disease Control recognizing that opioid addiction is the number one drug problem in the United States and killing on average 80 people a day, many people have been left wondering what kind of impact Donald Trump’s presidency will have on substance abuse and rehabilitation programs.
What many may find surprising to hear is that there is actually a very good chance that President Trump will have a particularly positive effect on rehab centers and the addictions that people might be plagued with. There are a variety of reasons that his policies, stances and history should make this the case.
One of Donald Trump’s bigger and most discussed campaign promises was that he plans to build a wall along the entire border of Mexico and the United States. At first glance, this might only seem like a way to stem the flow of undocumented immigrants from entering the country, but the DEA is currently looking into ways that Trump’s stance on border control could play a major role in helping alleviate some of the opioid problems our country is fighting so hard to control.
The primary reason that the Mexican border wall and the way that he will likely handle border control in general will have such an impact on opioid abuse is because it has been discovered that around 79 percent of all the heroin in the United States is sourced from or travels through Mexico. This being the case, a strengthening of our southern border should mean a large and direct impact on the availability of heroin to those who have an addiction to the drug. With that being the case, there is a good possibility that rehabilitation centers will become that much more vital to those who end up being forced into a position where they are chemically dependent on opioids but no longer have access to their illegal counterparts.
In other words, people who moved from prescription opioids to illegal forms of street heroin won’t be able to find the drug as easily as before, and they will be more likely to seek help through rehabilitation programs. Although the move to build a wall along the Mexican border might be one of the more controversial things that he plans to do and has already made moves to get done, it is hard to doubt that there may be some substantial and very real benefits as far as drug abuse in the US is concerned, whether or not those were part of Trump’s original plan.
Another aspect of Trump as the president that will likely have an impact on the way substance abuse and rehab centers are addressed is that his stance on criminalization and damage reduction programs have been found to be far less negative than those of most Republicans. In particular, he believes strongly in states’ rights and has been quoted saying that legalization of drugs would “take the profit away from these drug czars” and that the tax revenue earned should be used to pay for drug education programs.
Although it might seem counterintuitive to even think about legalizing street drugs in a time when opioid addiction is at an all-time high, the benefits would easily outweigh the drawbacks. The once-illegal and uncontrollable substances would become highly regulated products, which would mean that using them will be far safer than when purchasing them through a drug dealer or other black-market method.
Furthermore, the way that those who are addicted to drugs will be dealt with in a way that will be much more helpful to their substance abuse problems when compared to the current criminal justice system’s method of just locking them up for years at a time, which is particularly troublesome seeing as it has been proven time and again that all kinds of drugs are still readily available in many prisons.
Instead, those who have been discovered to have a substance abuse problem will end up being referred to rehab facilities where they will receive the specialized care they need to kick their addiction through around-the-clock support, therapeutic sessions, and more.
As if that all wasn’t enough, drug education programs around the country would also see a huge and unprecedented level of funding because of the tax revenue distribution that Trump espoused.
With the kind of money that these educational programs would end up receiving, they would be able to operate all manner of campaigns that could target every demographic in the country. They would not only be able to easily afford traveling groups and in-school programs, but they’d have the cash to buy media spots on television and radio as well as have a huge presence online through advertisements, video production and social media outreach.
Still, the legalization of street drugs is probably a pipe dream that will never come to fruition, but there is still hope as far as criminal justice is concerned regarding drug abuse in general. While he was running for the presidency, he has indicated that he might provide a path to more lenient sentencing for nonviolent drug offenders.
When it comes to his stances on domestic pharmaceutical drug and prescription medicine abuse, though, there has been a bit of a lapse of information available to the public thus far. His take on this issue will clarify in the coming months as we get deeper into his administration. Additionally, his goal of repealing the Affordable Care Act (also known as Obamacare) brings up many questions about how rehab programs would move forward from there. While this is certainly another grey area in his political promises, he has assured the American populace that he is going to be replacing the ACA with a plan that will be “insurance for everybody.”
A part of his healthcare plan is also the targeting of pharmaceutical companies regarding how much they charge customers for their medicines. Donald Trump said, “They’re politically protected, but not anymore.” Like other policies that the president has announced, this could lead to unplanned or unseen benefits to the rehabilitation industry.
Specifically, the move to get pharmaceutical products in the United States to a far more affordable price would mean much lower operating costs for rehab centers and programs. That would allow those facilities to hire more personnel and thereby expand their capacity to help their surrounding communities. This could happen either through outreach or by potentially being able to lower their prices, thereby making rehabilitation that much more accessible all around.
Nonetheless, even with what many might feel is an abundance of vagueness and confusion regarding the topics of drug abuse and rehabilitation, Donald Trump has actually promised expanded treatment for the country’s opioid problem. Beyond building a wall, lowering prescription drug prices and replacing the ACA with a potentially better option, he has personally pledged to both lower prescription drug abuse and offer assistance to those who are fighting with substance abuse – particularly when it comes to opioid addiction.
He has also given praise to the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act that was passed by Congress and signed by then-President Obama in July of 2016. The act includes a variety of measures meant to curb the massive influx of painkiller addiction. Trump said that the act was “an important step” in the fight against the opioid epidemic. In October, he further made a promise to make Narcan, a life-saving drug that helps those overdosing on opioid-based drugs and medicines, much more available to first responders. In addition to that, he noted that he would work to give incentives to states and cities for mandated treatment as well as encourage inpatient programs for those who are fighting an addiction.
Trump has also asked that the Food and Drug Administration take steps to expedite the approval of painkillers that are designed to deter abuse. He then took his message to the Drug Enforcement Administration and told them that they needed to lower the amount of prescription opioids that are allowed to be produced in the US. To offset this lowered rate of production, he said he would increase the number of people that doctors would be able to provide opioid abuse treatment to.
What is even more promising to those who might need rehab is that Trump has said, “It is tragedy enough that so many Americans are struggling with life-threatening addiction. We should not compound that tragedy with government policies and bureaucratic rules that make it even harder for them to get help.”
The thing that really makes us in the rehabilitation industry believe that President Trump will truly have a positive impact on what we do is not so much the things he has said, though. It is the fact that in 1981 his brother Fred (Freddy) Trump, Jr. died due to a severe bout with alcoholism. As sad as this situation must be for the president, it means that he has had to deal with an addict first hand.
He then must understand the challenges that those who are combating substance abuse and what their families are going through, especially when you take into consideration just how profound of an effect Freddy’s death had on his younger brother Donald. You see, because of the severe complications and untimely death of Freddy, president Trump has lived his life as a straight-edge teetotaler. This means that he remains abstinent from the likes of cigarettes, drugs and, as you can imagine, alcohol.
In a conversation with People, Trump noted that his brother “got stuck on alcohol.” He went on to say that, “it had a profound impact and ultimately [he] became an alcoholic and died of alcoholism. He would tell me, ‘Don’t drink ever’. He understood the problem that he had and that it was a very bad problem.”
If you look at each of the things discussed above individually, they might not seem like they would have much of an impact on drug abuse or alcoholism on their own. The thing is, though, that like any politician, you have to look at the total sum of Donald Trump’s calls to action and the things that he has said and promised concerning addiction and rehabilitation.
Should Donald Trump stick to his many promises, which is already something that is proving to be the case, it seems like it will be safe to assume that during his time as President, he is going to have a major impact on the way that non-violent drug abusers and their rehabilitation will be handled.
An excellent, albeit isolated, example of the kind of approach we can expect to see from Donald Trump on this topic comes from his handling of a situation involving Miss USA winner Tara Conner. After it had been discovered that Conner had a habit of partying hard, which included copious amounts of alcohol and cocaine, Trump fired her from from the Miss USA position by stripping her of her title in 2006.
However, in 2008, he set up a meeting with Conner and announced that he would pardon her saying, “I decided it was better to give her a second chance than to destroy her career and ruin her chances in life.” He later said, “She agreed to go to rehab and is now doing fine. She thanked me for ‘saving her life.’”
This episode goes to show us that Trump has a bit of a soft spot as far as substance abuse victims are concerned, which is a little surprising for someone who lost a family member to addiction. In any case, his stances on border control, the announced border wall, getting pharmaceutical companies to lower their prices, legalization of illicit drugs and promotion of drug education should stand as proof that we can expect to see some good advances to rehabilitating those who are in a battle with addiction.
Likewise, the death of his brother Freddy and his forgiving of and direct promotion of rehab for Tara Conner show us that he understands that addiction is a disease that requires treatment far more than it needs to be a punishable offense. While much of this is based on speculation, signs point to Trump being an especially good president as far as drug and alcohol rehab programs are concerned and we look forward to seeing the steps he takes.
Dr. Vikram Tarugu, M.D, is the CEO of Detox of South Florida, Inc and medical professional focused on addiction. A veteran in the medical field with over 25 years of professional experience. He is a consultant for many South Florida Rehab centers. Patients travel from allover the US to seek his help with addiction and Hepatitis C treatment.
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