Thursday, October 26, 2017

What did Donald Trump do today?

He brought back "just say no" to the opioid crisis, but no money.

Addiction to opioids--addictive, morphine-like painkiller drugs--is indeed a national health crisis. 142 Americans are killed daily by overdoses in an epidemic fueled by widespread overprescription and markets flooded by drug companies.

The epidemic has hit Trump-friendly demographics especially hard, so it was not particularly surprising when on August 10, Trump announced--after an urgent request by an expert commission--that he was officially declaring a "national emergency." Such a declaration would be administered through FEMA and would allow for increased spending on treatment, prevention, and changes to federal policy.

But no actual declaration was ever made, and months went by with no action from Trump. Then last week, Trump made two surprising announcements. First, he was forced to withdraw his drug czar nominee, Tom Merino, when it came to light that he had sponsored legislation opposed to letting the government fight the epidemic. Second, Trump announced that he would finally be taking action this week on an opioid plan--one that, as far as his staff knew, didn't yet exist.

Trump's announcement today is not the national emergency declaration he'd promised, but a "public health emergency." The important difference between the two is that a public health emergency declaration makes no money available. By way of comparison, Senate Democrats have introduced legislation that would allocate $45 billion for the fight.

So what?

  • Policy made in haste is usually bad policy.
  • Policy made in order to make it look like an administration is working on an issue is almost always bad policy.
  • The opioid crisis is serious enough to deserve a president's sustained attention.
  • What a president is and is not willing to spend money on is a pretty good indication of his priorities.