Trump Says Punishment, Fear and Walls Will End the Opioid Epidemic. Will They? | Center on Addiction

Trump Says Punishment, Fear and Walls Will End the Opioid Epidemic. Will They?

Trump Says Punishment, Fear and Walls Will End the Opioid Epidemic. Will They?

Border Partol driving along the US Mexico border wall

Earlier this week, President Trump visited New Hampshire to release his “Initiative to Stop Opioid Abuse and Reduce Drug Supply and Demand.” In a press release about the event, the White House laid out a strategy centered around three pillars:

  • Reducing drug demand through education, awareness, and preventing over-prescribing.
  • Cutting off the flow of illicit drugs across our borders and within communities.
  • Saving lives now by expanding opportunities for overdose reversal and proven treatments for opioid and other drug addiction.

Yet, many of the president’s remarks told somewhat of a different story. Here, we break down some of President Trump’s statements and dive into The Buzz archives to share our stance on whether or not his approach will help end this devastating crisis.


What he said: “So if we’re not going to get tough on the drug dealers who kill thousands of people and destroy so many people’s lives, we are just doing the wrong thing.”

Throughout his speech, President Trump made numerous remarks emphasizing the need to implement and enforce tougher punishments for people involved in the trafficking and selling of drugs. He even suggested implementing the death penalty for drug dealers and traffickers linked to overdose deaths.

What we said: “A criminal approach to drug use and addiction is not an effective means of preventing people from using drugs.”

In our blog post, “Will Declaring the Opioid Epidemic a National Emergency Lead to a Public Health Approach or a Return to the War on Drugs?” we explain why prohibiting drugs and reducing the illegal drug trade through police and military intervention doesn’t effectively reduce illegal drug use and addiction.


What he said: “This has been something that I’ve been very strongly in favor of: spending a lot of money on great commercials showing how bad it is. … That’s the least expensive thing we can do… scare them from ending up like the people in the commercials.”

In written communications, the White House proposes developing an “evidence-based campaign to raise public awareness about the dangers of prescription and illicit opioid use,” – a tactic we applaud – but President Trump’s remarks suggest something else entirely.

What we said: “When it comes to preventing adolescent drug use, the message is clear: fear is not the best answer.”

While there is evidence to suggest that scaring people can help them adopt or avoid certain behaviors, our blog, “Fear Factor: Do Scare Tactics Keep Teens From Using Drugs,” points out that scare tactics, such as the commercials President Trump proposed, may even increase a teen’s likelihood of engaging in an undesirable activity.


What he said: “We’ll build the wall to keep the damn drugs out.”

Throughout his campaign and into his first term as president, Trump has touted a border wall between the U.S. and Mexico as an essential means of curbing illegal immigration and preventing dangerous drugs from entering the country.

What we said: “The wall will not stop drugs from entering the country.”

There are many reasons building a wall will not impact the current opioid epidemic – the least of which is that most of the drugs entering the U.S. via Mexico arrive in cars through legal points of entry at border security checkpoints. That being said, our blog, “Border Walls Will Not End the Opioid Crisis” shows why reducing the supply of drugs in the U.S. will never be as effective as addressing the underlying demand fueled by addiction.


What he said: “We’re making medication assisted treatment more available and affordable.”

During his speech, President Trump touched upon a few different ways he plans to address some of the barriers to treatment people with addiction currently experience including a lack of access to medication-assisted treatment (MAT), limited Medicaid funding for treatment facilities with more than 16 beds and few resources dedicated to recently released inmates with addiction.

What we said:MAT reduces drug use and helps keep people in treatment longer.”

While we are grateful for the president’s commitment to investing in these evidence-based treatment approaches, including MAT, which we called, “an effective, potentially lifesaving, treatment,” in our blog, “Medication for Opioid Addiction is an Important Part of Recovery,” we were concerned by the president’s overall remarks, which disproportionately focused on a punitive approach.

In the future, we hope to see the president focus more on these compassionate, scientifically proven solutions to the opioid epidemic, and less on punitive or vindictive approaches, which will do little to save lives.

For additional thoughts from The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse about President Trump’s speech, read our response here.

Hannah FreedmanHannah Freedman

Hannah Freedman is a communications and digital associate at Center on Addiction 



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