Kellyanne Conway, the former-pollster who coined the term “alternative facts,” the pundit who cited a massacre that never happened, the Trump spokeswoman who violated federal ethics rules by promoting Ivanka Trump’s products on Fox & Friends, the oft-imitated political figure who is most widely known for her adept ability to sidestep questions and bulldoze conversations, and who has zero experience in public health or drug policy will be the point person in the Trump administration’s efforts to combat the opioid epidemic.
This is bad.
It’s bad because Kellyanne Conway has no experience in this area.
It’s bad because the Office of National Drug Control Policy is still without a leader, which means Conway’s role will likely be even larger than reported.
It’s bad because Kellyanne Conway seems to think advertising and working to strengthen the “will” of the people will play a significant role in solving this crisis.
In a prior piece detailing the opioid crisis, I quoted Dr.Abigail Zavod in calling the epidemic a “20-armed octopus covered in Vaseline.” The point is, it’s hard to pin down; this crisis is extraordinarily multifaceted, and if we are going to pull out of it and get things trending in the right direction we are going to have to be smart, and we have to spend money. But where this money is spent will largely determine how successful we are.
Any money spent on new versions of the “just say no” campaign would be a waste, but it seems Conway thinks otherwise. Scaring kids into abstaining from anything does not work. Encouraging an addict to have more will power is like telling someone with major depression to smile—it’s simplicity shows a stunning lack of understanding. Now, a program that focuses on judgment-free education, and that does not vilify and demean addicts could help lift the stigma around addiction and mental health and open up the conversation. But in listening to the President and Conway, this is highly unlikely to happen.
Punitive measures are also not the solution here. Cracking down on drugs and locking everyone away does not quell drug usage, it only sends addicts further to the fringes of society. We need to bring them in, not send them away. And a wall will not solve this crisis. Drugs will find a way in; they always find a way. Instead of spending billions on further bolstering the colossal failure which is the war on drugs, shift those funds to expanding medication-assisted treatment, and mental health care in general.
As the National Institute on Drug Abuse pointed out, many people suffering from addiction have co-morbid mental illnesses that can often precipitate drug abuse. Self-medication is a massive problem, and it will continue to be a massive problem unless we dismantle the stigma around mental health care and work to provide access to quality treatment for everyone.
This is a health care crisis; we need someone fighting this epidemic who knows the ins and outs health care, not a loyal, talking head.
Every 19 minutes someone dies of an overdose in the U.S.
We need the right people in the right positions now.