Amid a pandemic that has killed more than 220,000 people in the United States, many Americans have turned away from another crisis that has claimed almost exactly as many lives over the past three years: drug addiction and drug addiction.
Now the Trump campaign’s continued attacks on Hunter Biden in the final days of the presidential campaign – largely around his publicly documented struggles with drug addiction in the past – are adding to the frustrations of treatment experts already struggling with an epidemic. drug addiction exacerbated by the coronavirus. Some, however, are hoping the conversation about drug addiction may bring renewed attention to proposals by President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden to deal with the country’s other public health disaster.
“We hope they recognize that until the arrival of COVID, the only national health crisis was in substance use disorders,” said Mark Dunn, director of public policy for the National Providers Association. drug treatment. “The problems with mental health and substance use disorders have only been exacerbated by COVID, and therefore, when we go through this problem with a vaccine, or however we let’s go through it, there are a lot of people who will need a lot of help me. “
“There were a record number of drug overdose deaths in 2019 and we are on track to set another grim record in 2020,” said Marcia Lee Taylor, government relations manager with the Partnership to End Addiction. “Policymakers, regardless of their party, will need to make resolving this crisis a top priority in 2021 and beyond.”
Even though the coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated the conditions – social, medical, economic – that can lead to substance use, drug addiction has been discussed almost exclusively against the largely derogatory context of Hunter Biden’s past struggles.
“Are you talking about Hunter?” Trump said during the first presidential debate in September, interrupting Biden as he reflected on his late son, Beau Biden, who died of brain cancer five years ago. “Hunter was kicked out of the military. He was kicked out, dishonorably fired for cocaine use – he didn’t have a job until you became vice president, and once you became vice president he made a fortune.
Rudy Giuliani, the president’s attorney, has doubled down in recent weeks with the leak of documents allegedly obtained from Hunter Biden’s laptop, using the as yet unproven existence of what he told the Daily Beast: ‘a number of photographs which show very explicit sexual activity, and other very personal things, and also display criminal behavior,’ including ‘smoking crack’ to attack Elder Biden as both a parent and as a civil servant.
Drug treatment specialists have warned that the bogus attacks – Hunter Biden was not dishonorably fired – stigmatize the tens of millions of recovering Americans and may make them less likely to seek treatment at a time when relapse rates are skyrocketing across the country.
“The stigma surrounding mental health and addiction has been shown to be a significant barrier to treatment and prevent many people from seeking the help they need,” said Dr. Lawrence Weinstein, medical director at the time. chief of the American addiction centers. addiction “a blind, chronic, complex and recurrent brain disease”.
“This disease is not the result of moral failure, poor judgment or weakness – it is a chronic disease that requires lifelong maintenance,” Weinstein said.
There are links between Trump’s condemnatory drug addiction rhetoric and Biden’s more human public statements, telling Trump he was “proud” of his son for working to overcome his addiction, and their respective policy positions and proposals. on substance use and the so-called “War on Drugs”.
In Biden’s “Plan to End the Opioid Crisis,” where the word “family” and its variations appear six times and are mentioned at least once in each section, the focus is on combating drug addiction. expanding access to treatment for substance use and mental health disorders. services. The most detailed section of the plan commits to making prevention, treatment and recovery services accessible to all Americans who need them with the allocation of $ 125 billion in state funding for these services at over the next decade, and promises to integrate the care of substance use disorders into its proposed public health option.
Biden’s plan would also refocus the fight against the flow of drugs from street dealers to big drug companies and “bad actors” in countries like China and Mexico, with increased taxes on drug companies to pay for the cost. treatment of the drug problem that their products created. and threats of sanctions against illicit fentanyl producers in East Asia.
Biden’s proposals reflect a long history of advocating for more humane treatment of those struggling with drug addiction, dating back to his time in the Senate.
“He really, rightfully cares about this issue deep in his bones, so it’s not something new – he’s not new to the scene on this issue,” Taylor, who worked for seven years at of the judicial staff of the Biden Senate as senior drug policy adviser. , told The Daily Beast in an interview after the first debate. “He has cared about this for years and years and really feels the pain of the families going through this – not just because it has touched his family, but because he has seen the effect it has on families across the country. across the country and that he really cares.
In particular, the inclusion of treatment for substance use disorders in health coverage, which Biden advocated when drafting the Affordable Care Act, is being hailed by healthcare providers as a major boon, extending what is often prohibitively expensive treatment to those in the least position to pay for it.
While Trump’s campaign has eschewed the standard campaign practice of making specific policy proposals for his next term, instead of defending the “promises kept” by his administration, the president addresses a subsection of the page devoted to social opioid control programs. The section points out that the Trump administration has allocated nearly $ 500 million to states to prevent and treat opioid use – dubbed ‘abuse,’ a term treatment providers discourage as demeaning – and highlights several crackdowns legal action against possession of fentanyl and overprescribing unnecessary opioids.
The Trump administration’s request for $ 1.5 billion in federal funding for state opioid subsidies in its most recent budget is not included in the list, which is intended to fund prevention services, treatment and recovery, and includes a 15% “layaway” for the ten states with the highest drug overdose death rates.
“Addiction to alcohol, street drugs and prescription drugs is fueling havoc, grief and hopelessness in the lives of far too many Americans, as well as their friends and family,” Trump said in a proclamation declaring October as the national prevention of substance abuse. Month – one of many recent occasions the President has mentioned the dire consequences of the pandemic on people with substance use disorders, in part to justify his lax approach to social distancing and mask requirements. “We renew our unwavering commitment to breaking the grip of alcoholism and drug addiction. Through our continued national efforts, we will save lives and work to ensure a stronger and healthier country.
But Trump’s “inflexible” public and political fixation on a punitive response to drug addiction – the Office of National Drug Control Policy has increasingly focused in recent years on the prohibition and enforcement of drug abuse. law rather than prevention, treatment and recovery, when it focused on anything. —Is an old-fashioned approach that treatment experts say can put drug addicts in jail instead of being treated.
A notable example is the president’s long-promised but never delivered campaign pledge to extend the death penalty to drug traffickers, which has made treatment providers concerned that Trump is not thinking about drug use. than in terms of punishment, rather than recovery.
“The problem with this approach is that many people who become addicted clearly find themselves in financial difficulty and turn to drug dealing as a means of financing their habit and their lives,” Dunn said. “It’s hard to tell someone who is this supposed drug mainstay versus a college kid who has become addicted and has resorted to selling just to maintain a livelihood.
The strains of the pandemic, along with the increased isolation and economic catastrophe it has caused, have made the issue of conscientious treatment more important than ever. Asked what they would hope to see under a second Trump administration – or under a first Biden term – treatment experts told The Daily Beast their laundry lists would include the implementation of parity-of-sentence laws, l ” expanding evidence-based prevention programs in schools and removing barriers to housing, education, employment and public benefits that often prevent recovering drug addicts from reintegrating into society.
“The good news is that there is a great bipartisan consensus on what needs to be done,” Taylor said. “The Surgeon General’s report on Facing Addiction, released at the end of the Obama administration, and the Christie Commission report, released by the Trump administration, focused on many of the same key points. What we haven’t had yet is the political will to implement the necessary changes and to spend what it takes to have a real impact. “
In the meantime, those working to tackle the substance use crisis are hoping Trump’s flanks against recovering individuals will end so Americans can focus on the crisis itself.
“We hope whoever ends up being the next president will reduce the stigma attached to addiction,” Dunn said. “We hope they understand the concept of illness and focus on prevention-treatment-recovery, as opposed to punishment.
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