Not that it matters to him or his supporters, but Donald Trump’s solution for the heroin epidemic is dangerous and stupid, according to experts.
“For the people of New Hampshire, where you have a tremendous problem with heroin and drugs—you wouldn’t even believe it. You see this place and you say it’s so beautiful. You have a tremendous problem,” Trump said last night in victory speech in New Hampshire, after winning the state’s presidential primary by 17 points.
To Trump, who almost lapped the field among those without a college education in New Hampshire, the state’s heroin and opiate crisis exists, obviously, because of the Mexicans.
“Because at the Southern border, it’s gonna be over,” he said. “We’re gonna have borders again and we’re gonna work with you people to help you solve that very big problem.”
You’re not going to believe this, but the Mexicans, writ large, are not what gets people addicted to heroin in New Hampshire, which is 93.6 percent white and 2,000 miles away from Mexico.
“That’s ridiculous,” said Andrew Kolodny, Chief Medical Officer for the national addiction treatment nonprofit Phoenix House. “We need to prevent people from getting addicted and be more cautious prescribing [painkillers]. Heroin will just keep flooding in. If it’s not coming in through Mexico, you’ll have more Fentanyl labs popping up in the U.S. It’s become more available because there’s a demand for it.”
The reality is a long and boring fix that may take years, but it doesn’t involve using a race of people as a convenient boogeyman, so Donald Trump has no use for it.
Here it is anyway.
According to statistics from the Center for Disease Control, drug use researchers like Kolodny, and even the DEA, what gets people addicted to heroin in places like New Hampshire and Vermont is the over-prescription or ready availability of painkillers like Percocet, OxyContin and Vicodin. When users can’t wean off the drug effectively, they turn to cheaper alternatives, like heroin.
This has immediately deleterious effects, as often upstanding people are then treated like criminals and refuse to seek help in fear of prosecution, which can often end in death.
Opiate-related deaths have quintupled in the state in the last two years.
“There aren’t a lot of people saying, ‘Hm, heroin sounds like a fun drug to try!’ The people who are using heroin are people who have opioid addiction,” said Kolodny, who is also a senior scientist at Brandeis University’s Heller School for Social Policy & Management. “Some develop [a painkiller addiction] for taking drugs exactly as they were prescribed.”
But, of course, this is boring and more than a two-step process, so Donald Trump refuses to read about it. This would require more than 10 seconds of thought and a relatively complex public health initiative with a measure that isn’t immediately punitive for the Mexican Bad Guys, so he will not consider it.
“The first thing always that they mention to me, ‘Mr. Trump, please do something. The drugs, the heroin, it’s pouring in.’ And it’s so cheap! Because there’s so much of it. And the kids are getting stuck, and other people are getting stuck. We’re gonna end it. We’re gonna end it. We’re gonna end it,” he said at his victory speech last night.
He’s gonna end it with a big, beautiful wall. No more Mexican heroin killing people in Donald Trump’s America. People will just have to die a more expensive death on Percocet.
That is how people die now, by the way. Drug overdose deaths overtook car accidents as the leading cause of injury-related deaths this year, and over half of those deaths were from painkillers and heroin.
And why wouldn’t that be the case? The CDC reports that there were as many prescriptions for painkillers in America as there were adults living in it.
There is a way out of this. There are towns that were deep in the weeds of the opioid epidemic and have been able to crawl their way out. It just has nothing to do with what Donald Trump thinks can fix it.
Those towns didn’t build a wall. They built a welcome sign.
Four people died of heroin overdoses in the first four months of last year in Gloucester, Mass., a 30,000-person town 25 miles away from New Hampshire. Their police chief, Leonard Campanello, was sick of answering calls of people overdosing in their homes and on the street instead of asking for help. So he decided to change it.
“The reasons for the difference in care between a tobacco addict and an opiate addict is stigma and money. Petty reasons to lose a life,” he wrote on his Facebook page.
Instead of building a wall around the CVS that sells the stuff, they asked for the store’s help. They worked with the local pharmacy to make nasal spray Narcan, the drug that revives those dying from a heroin overdose, available for free.
They also opened the police station to walk-ins for those who need help, no questions asked.
But it’s simply easier for Trump to brush aside those who are already addicted to opiates while parading on a vanity quest for law and order than to help those who are hooked.
Helping those who became accidental opiate addicts would require him to contemplate a pharmaceutical industry that had a role in getting Americans hopelessly addicted to legal and illegal drugs.
In 2007, the maker of OxyContin, Purdue Pharma, was forced to pay out over $600 million for their product as a painkiller that was “fraudulently marketed … for six years as a drug that was less prone to abuse,” even though it was a highly addictive narcotic.
“Before they launched their drugs, doctors understood that prescribing highly addictive drugs for common conditions is a bad idea. We knew if you put a patient with low back pain and chronic headaches and fibromyalgia, they could easily get addicted,” said Kolodny. “Purdue Pharma reframed them as a barriers to compassionate pain care. They told the medical community, ‘We’ve been allowing patients to suffer needlessly because of fear of addiction.’ As we responded to this campaign, it led to this epidemic.”
But this is a problem that requires about two decades of slow, boring history to understand, and it also reveals the benefits of regulating a sometimes greedy pharmaceutical industry, so Trump will have none of it.
He’ll just build a wall to keep out the Mexicans. It will fix everything.
Trump dominated the vote among those who never took a college class in New Hampshire. Jeb Bush, who finished second place in that demographic, was 35 percentage points away from catching up. He almost beat the field by himself.
Keep it simple, stupid. More people will die, but we’ll just blame the Mexicans for it.