President Donald Trump unveiled his plan to combat the opioid epidemic on Monday by spending “the most money ever on the opioid crisis,” primarily on commercials to raise awareness on the dangers of opioid misuse.
“Spending a lot of money on great commercials to show how bad it is,” Trump said. “You scare them from ending up like the people in the commercials.”
The plan to fight the opioid epidemic by releasing ads on TV isn’t a surprising solution coming from a 72-year-old former reality TV star. In the 1980s and '90s, the government spent hundreds of millions of dollars on an unsuccessful "Just Say No" campaign.
Along with the funding for ads, Trump unveiled a new website that allows families of addicts to share their stories — and in order to do so, users must grant the U.S. Government license to “use, edit, display, publish, broadcast, transmit, post, or otherwise distribute” their videos. The website, crisisnextdoor.gov, is named after the term Trump’s administration has been using for the opioid epidemic.
Website users are prompted to share their stories by uploading a video about how they “overcame addiction, volunteered at a recovery center, or worked as a family to help a loved one get on the path to recovery.”
The site says “opioids killed more people last year than either car accidents or gun violence.” More Americans died at the hands of opioids in 2016 than did during the entire Vietnam War. Opioids killed more than 42,000 people in 2016, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
But the Trump administration isn’t digging for statistical data. It wants stories from regular Americans that pull at the heartstrings. These sorts of emotional stories aren’t uncommon in politics, and Trump routinely utlitizes anecdotal stories from voters to advance his agenda. In his State of the Union address alone, he told the story of New Mexico police officer Ryan Holets and his wife, who adopted an unborn child of a heroin user he'd encountered while on duty. Later, he told the story of two teenagers who were killed by MS-13 gang members. The girls' parents watched from the audience as guests of the president.
Trump continued that tactic on Monday, when he invited the parents of an opioid addict to the stage during a rally in New Hampshire to share the story of how their son died because of his addiction. Trump used their appearance as a launchpad for a three-pronged plan to reduce opioid use in the U.S., starting with an advertising campaign to increase education and prevention.
Trump said the plan also includes increasing federal funding for treatment, and helping addicts find jobs. He also praised Adapt Pharma’s pledge to give colleges free doses of Narcan, a drug that treats people who overdose on opioids. Adapt Pharma does this in partnership with the Clinton Foundation, an organization Trump has called “outright corrupt,” according to Mic.
Trump also proffered one of his controversial solutions, calling on Congress and the Department of Justice to seek harsher punishments for drug traffickers, including the death penalty.
“If we don’t get tough on drug dealers, we’re wasting our time,” Trump said on Monday. “And that toughness includes the death penalty. Some of these drug dealers will kill thousands of people, thousands of people, and destroy many more lives than that.”
Trump has repeatedly spoken out in support of executing drug dealers, expressing admiration for Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who has overseen the death of around 12,000 people suspected of trafficking or dealing drugs, according to Human Rights Watch.
But many experts disagree with Trump’s assessment.
“How many folks are we willing to murder?” retired Major Neill Franklin, the executive director of Law Enforcement Action Partnership, said in a press call on Monday. “My heart goes out to the president… but executing people for selling drugs is absolutely ridiculous.”
Cover image: U.S. President Donald Trump speaks to supporters and local politicians at an event at Manchester Community College on March 19, 2018 in Manchester, New Hampshire. The president addressed the ongoing opioid crisis, which has had a devastating impact on cities and counties across the nation. In Manchester overdoses through early March were up 23 percent from this time last year. Trump was joined by his wife, Melania, and his Attorney General Jeff Sessions (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)