On October 26, 2017, President Trump publicly announced that the opioid crisis in our country was now a public health emergency. In the same press conference, Trump laid out the agenda in combating the drug crisis and expressed his determination to successfully do so.
In a report released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, as of 2015, “12.5 million people misused prescription opioids.” 33,091 of those mentioned died from opioid overdose. Approximately 100 people die every day from such instances.
With Trump’s recent declaration, acting Secretary of Health and Human Services, Eric Hargan, has the authority to order federal agencies to implement any emergency means in order to help confront the crisis. In addition, the Food and Drug Administration has recently released the “FDA Opioids Action Plan” which consists of methods such as developing more explicit warnings for opioid labels as well as expanding access to overdose treatment.
“As Americans, we cannot allow this to continue.” President Trump adamantly stated during the conference. “It is time to liberate our communities from the scourge of drug addiction. We can be the generation that ends the opioid epidemic. We can do it.”
Although Trump’s determination to stop the opioid crisis is admirable, his administration as well as the rest of society must first acknowledge that drug addiction is a mental health issue, before coming together to formulate a medical agenda. The statistics on the epidemic that are being frequently released by the media are overwhelming and shocking, but serve to remind us that the war on drugs is not discriminately faced by a select racial group or social class. Anyone of any background can be susceptible to addiction. Despite NBC News’ report that overdoses are now the leading cause of death for Americans under 50, the stigma we pinpoint on drug users ostracize them by depicting them as people of immoral and selfish character.
Our stereotypes cast them as criminals and degenerates of our society. Because of such painful allegations, these drug abusers are too embarrassed to ask for professional help and repeatedly relapse into the dangerous cycle of opioid abuse. The same news report from NBC continued to explore how “more than 40 percent of people who struggle with addiction also have another mental health challenge of some kind,” which also implies that these drug users self-prescribe themselves to help cope with their issues.
Trump’s reluctance to categorize the opioid epidemic as a public health emergency rather than a national state of emergency also plays a factor into societal reluctance to consider opioid overdose as a judgement-free medical emergency. While situations of fatal natural disaster events often lead to states receiving money from the Federal Disaster Relief Fund, the Trump administration has withheld states from tapping into that same fund in order to help pay for overdose treatments. Thus, his refusal to classify the opioid epidemic as a national emergency is an act of not fully addressing the drug problem America has.
Mental health is a whole concept that we must continue to educate ourselves on, to maintain by practicing healthy lifestyle and to separate it from the ignorant stigmas and generalizations cast by society.
If you are feeling or dwelling on any dark emotion and thought, know that it is okay to reach out to your close friends and family. If you do not feel comfortable doing so, know that there are counseling services offered here at NJIT. It is better to talk to someone about your feelings than to numb the pain with substance abuse. Opioid abuse should not be a precursor or an effect of the silence we adopt when the conversation of mental health tries to begin.