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Friday, February 16, 2018

Tackling opioid addiction and overdoses, Trump-style

Kellyanne Conway purges scientists, hires cronies at drug policy office
Related imageIn case you were wondering what blonde-ambition -presidential-advisor Kellyanne Conway has been doing since her role as Trump spokesperson – with novel views on “alternate facts” – has has been curtailed on the TV talk show circuit, she is busy politicizing and perverting the administration’s bumbling efforts to combat the growing opioid crisis, which will take about 66,000 more American lives this year.

The former pollster is taking a leadership role in an area in which she has no expertise, knowledge or experience by ignoring the scientific and medical experts in favor of expanding the role of political appointees.


“Kellyanne Conway is not an expert in this field,” Andrew Kessler of the consulting group Slingshot Solutions, which has worked on substance abuse issues with federal agencies told Politico. “She may be a political operative and a good political operative, but look, when you appoint a secretary of labor, you want someone with a labor background.”

“The opioid epidemic needs leadership,” added Kessler, “that ‘speaks’ the langue of drug policy.”
That assumes Trump wants to address drug policy and medical issues, as it seemed when he made a speech last October declaring the opioid crisis a national emergency.

Since then, however, the Trump administration has moved to cut the budget for the key office on drug policy since the Reagan era, the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), has failed to appoint a leader known in the past as the “drug czar,” and has left it badly understaffed. In his new budget, Trump is expected to move key duties of the office, including spending multimillion-dollar grants, to two other federal agencies.

“The upheaval in the drug policy office illustrates the Trump administration’s inconsistency in creating a real vision on the opioids crisis,” reports Politico.

“Trump declared a public health emergency at a televised White House event and talked frequently about the devastating human toll of overdoses and addiction,” continues Politico, “but critics say he hasn’t followed through with a consistent, comprehensive response.”

Early in his administration, Trump formed a presidential commission on the opioid problem chaired by former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, which recommended public health approaches to dealing with addiction, access to treatment and better education for medical professionals who prescribe and deal with opioids.

Trump has generally ignored all of those common sense recommendations, which he writes off as the kind of efforts President Obama tried, in favor of a harsh law and order approach and a return to Nancy Reagan’s failed just say no campaign. 

Last week President Trump was accompanied by his wife Melania on a trip to Ohio. While Trump walked around a manufacturing plant touting his tax cuts and economic policy as the stock market was collapsing, he sent Kellyanne and Melania (who knows even less than Conway about drug policy) to attend an event on the opioid addiction crisis.

When Trump does talk about opioids, it is mostly as an excuse to push for the wildly expensive wall on the border with Mexico which he says will stop the flow of heroin into the U.S. 

Trump doesn’t seem to understand a large part of the problem is the abuse of prescription painkillers that are legally manufactured, prescribed and sold, often in excessive amounts.

He doesn’t seem to grasp that spending $35 billion on a border wall while closing medical clinics and cutting medical research is going to keep opioids away from the more than 150 people a day who die in the U.S. from drug abuse. 

“I don’t know what the agency is doing, I really don’t,” Regina LaBelle, who was the ONDCP Chief of Staff under President Obama told Politico. “They aren’t at the level of visibility you’d think they’d be at by now.”

With the ONDCP understaffed, under-budgeted and ignored, there is also a lot of confusion on Capitol Hill. While the Senate HELP committee has been in touch with Conway and others in the White House who make domestic policy, many others in Congress say there has been no outreach from Conway or the cabinet.

“I haven’t talked to Kellyanne at all and I’m from the worst state for this,” Senator Shelly Moore Capito (R-West Virginia) told Politico. 

West Virginia has the highest overdose rate in the country but Capito says she is “uncertain of “Conway’s role.

One of Conway’s key moves has been to convene a multi-agency “cabinet” but it is full of political people with few that have the professional expertise the ONDCP provided in the past. 

One of those who has been part of Conway’s “cabinet” is Nina Schaefer, who was an advisor to disgraced former HHS Secretary Tom Price – where she was said to have developed the HHS response to the opioid crisis – before she recently returned to the ultra-conservative Heritage Foundation think tank.

When contacted by Politico, Schaefer said through a spokesperson that she was not an expert on the topic of the opioid crisis. 

One of those who is working with Conway on a public education campaign is Andrew Giuliani, the 32-year-old son of Trump shill Rudy Giuliani, who works in the White House.

“He has no background in drug policy, multiple administration sources told Politico. Nor has Conway spent her career in the anti-opioid trenches.”

So what Trump is really doing is putting a public happy face on the opioid crisis by pretending to care, pretending to do something, while actually cutting programs, budgets and people with real expertise out of the process. 

To Trump, it is just an excuse to stuff his pricey border wall down the throat of Congress and America, so that billions can go to builders, cement sellers and real estate developers while money is choked off to those who might really make a difference in stopping opioid deaths – as so many other civilized countries have shown it is possible to do. 

As people die, drug companies make excessive profits, communities are ravaged, law enforcement is pushed to arrest non-violent drug users – filling more jails – Trump is peddling the one thing he knows, understands and loves to talk about – fake news.