Facts Again Go Missing as Trump Declares Opioid Addiction a National Health Emergency

Facts Again Go Missing as Trump Declares Opioid Addiction a National Health Emergency

During a speech last week declaring opioid addiction a national public health emergency, President Trump made the extraordinary claim that 64,000 American lives were lost last year due to drug overdoses. “More people are dying from drug overdoses today than from gun homicides and motor vehicles combined,” he said.

Trump continued to embellish his case, adding that the “shocking death toll,” of addiction has resulted in “families ripped apart and, for many communities, a generation of lost potential and opportunity,” he said. “This epidemic is a national health emergency, unlike many of us [have] seen and what we've seen in our lifetimes. Nobody has seen anything like what's going on now,” Trump added. “As Americans, we cannot allow this to continue.” 

The opioid crisis is indeed a public health menace. But Trump’s narrative, one that claims that drug-related deaths are a greater scourge than gun homicides and motor vehicle deaths put together is at variance with the facts. Every raised decibel on overdoses only serves to amplify the silences on the deaths that he downplays.  

About 35,000 people died in car crashes in 2015, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s most recent data, and the United States has the highest rate of crash deaths in the developed world, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The U.S. also ranks near the bottom of 20 nations for front-seat seatbelt use and has the second-highest level of accidents involving drunk drivers.

Families are no less ripped apart by deaths involving a drunk driver. In 2013, nearly a third of traffic deaths involved a driver operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol, yet a president has never declared a public health emergency to force the auto industry to make cars safer; encourage drivers and passengers to be more conscientious; entice drivers off the road with better public transportation; or to make drunk-driving punishments harsher.

Trump played fast and loose with the number of Americans who have died because of gun violence. Homicides actually account for only a third of the 34,000 annual deaths involving guns. The other two-thirds, more than 21,000 a year, are from suicide.

Why Trump chose to ignore gun suicides is unknown. Is it because he wanted to blow out the embers from a gun control debate that got reignited after Las Vegas? Was he afraid that spotlighting the high U.S. gun death rates would anger the National Rifle Association? Did the president want to downplay a racial issue? It’s well known that the opioid crisis has ripped through rural and low-income white communities. Less commonly known, because the NRA and their puppets in Congress make sure there is little or no funding for federal gun studies, is that white men account for seven out of every ten suicides, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Or did some White House officials simply realize that Trump’s fudging of the numbers on gun and motor vehicle deaths and comparing those figures to the numbers of opioid deaths was flat out wrong?  

The opioid crisis demands attention. But despite the declaration, Trump has said little about long-term solutions or funding to address this national emergency. It is also extremely unclear and highly doubtful that an administration that is rolling back regulations with a vengeance will spend any time looking into the role of the pharmaceutical industry that pushes the sale of prescription opioids that many patients have abused.

If Trump really cares about public health emergencies, the efforts to fight opioid addiction should include concurrent actions against gun violence. When Congress cannot even act on the bump stocks that enabled the Las Vegas gunman to turn his weapons into virtual machine guns, that failure to act speaks volumes about the willful disregard about public health crisis. Put another way, about half a million Americans have died in domestic gun incidents since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Families have been ripped apart and in many communities, a generation of promising young people have died. When does the president plan to declare a national emergency for that?