The 2016 election pitted Americans against each other on a number of issues. Some felt that their candidate was the only one who could save the country. Others simply voted for the candidate they hated the least. But in the end, only one person could win. And no matter who you voted for, you likely have strong feelings about the result—Donald Trump will be our next president. You likely know his stance on immigration, terrorism, taxes and medical care. His stance on addiction treatment, however, has received a bit less press coverage.
Donald Trump addressed the heroin epidemic largely out of necessity. Campaigning in New England, he faced many prospective voters with family members who struggled with substance abuse. He addressed not only the effects of addiction on a personal level, but also the scope of the epidemic now spreading across the United States. Trump drew criticism for some of his comments, especially those made at a campaign rally in New Hampshire:
“How does heroin work with these beautiful lakes and trees? More than any place, this state, I’ve never seen anything like it with what’s happening with the drugs, more so than in other places and other places are a disaster.”
Critics attacked Donald Trump for being out of touch, and for quickly turning his focus toward votes. For others, his message resonated deeply. How can we live in such a beautiful world, yet forsake our own existence by risking death for our next fix? There’s no perfect answer. But Trump has at least offered a few answers regarding his plans to fight the epidemic. And this isn’t surprising, because alcoholism and addiction form a deep part of his own personal history.
Donald Trump’s Own History
Donald Trump never battled alcoholism or addiction himself. In fact, he doesn’t drink or do drugs at all. He doesn’t even smoke cigarettes. Instead, his struggles largely stem from those around him. Perhaps the greatest influence in this regard was his brother Freddy.
Unlike Donald, Freddy didn’t care for the real estate business. Making his living as a pilot, he began struggling with alcohol in his mid-20s. This caused trouble between the two brothers. Meanwhile, Freddy faced many personal troubles of his own. His drinking led to divorce and the loss of his career. In 1981, it finally killed him. Donald, who once looked up to his brother and learned from him, never drank a drop. Despite the rift between them, Donald Trump now looks back fondly on his brother, stating in an interview with the New York Times:
“He would have been an amazing peacemaker if he didn’t have the problem, because everybody loved him. He’s like the opposite of me.”
Perhaps because of Freddy’s influence, Donald Trump has expressed great sympathy toward those who know the horrors of alcoholism and addiction. At a campaign rally in January, Trump spoke directly to the father of a young man who died from a heroin overdose. Attendees at the rally saw a rare demonstration of Trump’s softer side as he spoke.
“Because they say once you get hooked, it’s really tough. In all fairness to your son, it’s a tough thing. Some very, very strong people have not been able to get off it. So we have to work with people to get off it, and the biggest thing we can do in honor of your son, actually, and the people that did have problems, big problems, we have to be able to stop it.”
Donald Trump then took a moment to comfort the man personally before addressing the need for prevention:
“You just relax, okay? Yeah, it’s a tough deal. Come on. It’s a tough deal. What we have to do is we have to make sure that they don’t get hooked because it’s a tough thing. And I know what you went through. And he’s a great father. I can see it. And your son is proud of you. Your son is proud of you. It’s tough stuff, it’s tough stuff, and it could be stopped. And the best way, you know, the best way to stop it is up front before it happens because once they start taking it, they say it’s brutal.”
He eventually left the stage, but not before a few parting words to the grieving father.
“Take care of yourself, okay? It’s very cool. I bet he was a great boy. Thank you, man.”
Trump has even shown sympathy to drug users themselves. In 2006, Tara Conner almost lost her Miss Teen USA crown after testing positive for cocaine. Rather than taking her crown, Donald Trump sent Conner to rehab. She was allowed to keep her crown, and later praised Donald Trump for giving her a second chance:
“He did a huge service for me and he really helped me out a lot. Because I feel like he took such a strong step forward for the recovery movement by sending me to treatment and breaking the stigma in that way.”
It definitely appears that Donald Trump cares for those who struggle with substance abuse, as well as their families. Yet despite his personal history, some still criticize him as being out of touch. And his critics don’t just scrutinize his words on the campaign trail. Some go back much, much further.
His Former Stance on Drugs
At least one story from Trump’s personal life has caused some to question his moral integrity. In 1986, a man named Joseph Weichselbaum faced sentencing for charges of cocaine trafficking. Donald Trump wrote a letter to the court, asking that Weichselbaum receive leniency.
This might sound similar to the story of Tara Conner, but certain details tend to raise eyebrows. As it turns out, while Weichselbaum’s lawyers blamed his actions on marital stress and addiction, this was not the man’s first run-in with the law. Nonetheless, Donald Trump described the twice-convicted felon as “conscientious, forthright and diligent.” His letter even described Weichselbaum as a “credit to the community.” Trump’s critics point out that Weichselbaum and Trump shared a professional connection, with Weichselbaum providing charter helicopter services to Trump’s casinos. They further claim this to indicate that Trump only favors leniency toward addicts when he stands to gain something from them.
While Weichselbaum’s story may cause skepticism, it only presents one instance in which Trump spoke on the legal treatment of substance abusers. In 1990, during the Miami Herald’s Company of the Year Awards luncheon, Trump strongly criticized the nation’s attempt to regulate the drug trade. He then presented an alternative:
“We’re losing badly the war on drugs. You have to legalize drugs to win that war. You have to take the profit away from these drug czars.”
Trump went on to detail the manner in which a legalized drug trade might actually help the war on substance abuse. Tax revenues from drug sales would go toward education and awareness. Proponents of similar theories have also stated that such revenues might increase funding for addiction treatment. Critics, however, believe that legalizing the drug trade would only empower substance abusers, tacitly endorsing their behaviors.
Keri Blakinger, writing for The Fix, appears to imply that Trump’s former stance on legalization contradicts his recent campaign as the “law and order candidate.” His new plan, however, differs greatly from the one he espoused in 1990. And with Trump’s inauguration fast approaching, it’s important that we examine his current stance on the possible future of addiction treatment and prevention.
The New Donald Trump Plan
Donald Trump no longer believes in legalization, although he still criticizes current attempts at law enforcement. In a statement released on October 28, just over a week before the election, his campaign writes:
“President Obama has commuted the sentences of record numbers of high level drug traffickers, many of them kingpins, and violent armed traffickers with extensive criminal histories. Hillary Clinton promises to continue this approach, turning our streets back over to gangs, drug cartels and armed career criminals.”
In his multi-faceted plan to address the current drug epidemic, Donald Trump places law enforcement at the forefront. He promises to secure our border by building a wall to keep out drug traffickers. Trump also promises to prosecute drug criminals, deporting cartel members and putting an end to sanctuary cities. Identifying China as the primary source of fentanyl in the United States, he also plans to close shipping loopholes that currently enable foreign dealers to mail their products directly to users and dealers on American soil.
Donald Trump also intends to reduce the manufacture rates of Schedule II opioids such as fentanyl and oxycodone. In criticism of “the misguided rules and regulations that have made this problem worse,” he also plans to make medication-assisted treatment more available. As long as doctors prescribe and administer such medications safely, he will lift the cap that currently limits medical professionals from treating more patients with abuse-deterring medications. Trump also plans to prevent overdoses by distributing the overdose-reversal drug Narcan to first responders.
Finally, Donald Trump plans to support the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA). This will theoretically expand the use of mandated treatment in place of prison sentences and increase funding for prevention programs. Believing that current Medicaid policies make it more difficult to obtain treatment, he also plans to overhaul America’s current health care plan. Kelly Burch of The Fix criticizes this plan, noting that Trump’s plan to support CARA fails to address the bill’s current lack of funding. Burch also cites one woman who criticizes Trump’s plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act:
“The addict population is absolutely screwed if Obamacare disappears. It’s hard enough to find services. They don’t need to make it worse for these people. When they’re ready to go they need it now, not in a week, not in a couple days. Now.”
President-elect Donald Trump faces some hurdles in implementing his addiction plan. The repeal of Obamacare and the lack of funding for CARA present only two of the greatest. But at the very least, we know that our next POTUS has a plan to address the staggering epidemic currently casting a shadow over our nation. Whether it will work remains to be seen.
How do you feel about Trump’s plan to fight the addiction epidemic? Does his plan resonate with you, or do you agree with the critics who say that Donald Trump is out of touch? Feel free to share your own two cents in the comments below.