In 2011, the Centers for Disease Control warned that overdoses involving prescription painkillers had reached "epidemic levels."
That same year, the Office of National Drug Control Policy released a plan to curb prescription drug abuse. It focused on opioids and involved four components: education, monitoring, disposal, and enforcement. Over the next few years, state and federal officials cracked down on "pill mills" and "doctor shoppers," yet the number of opioid-related deaths continued to rise.
By 2015, heroin-related overdose deaths had outpaced those linked to prescription painkillers. In 2017, the overdose rate continued to climb, with synthetic opioids--especially fentanyl--now claiming the highest death rate.
One could use this data to argue that the "War on Drugs" is failing. To do so, however, would misinterpret the purpose of the so-called drug war.
Drug prohibition and its enforcement have long been tied to the villainization of vulnerable populations. In 1982, Ronald Reagan famously declared a War on Drugs, as Nixon had done before him. The militant "war" that followed targeted crack cocaine in black, urban neighborhoods suffering the consequences of his cuts to financial assistance programs, while the penalties for using powdered cocaine favored by whites were far less severe.
Now, in what Maria McFarland Sanchez-Moreno calls a "different twist" on an old war, Donald Trump is tying the current drugs scourge to the immigrant population likely to suffer under his administration's policy goals. Sanchez-Moreno is executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, a national advocacy group based in New York City.
"It's just very easy to pin the overdose crisis on immigrants," she tells The Progressive, "and then say that you're doing something about it by going after immigrants."
Trump found fans of his anti-immigration politics in the white, rural counties where the collapse of industry has led to economic decline and desperation. Part of his message has been to blame the opioid epidemic and economic decline on immigration and immigrants.
"For decades, open borders have allowed drugs and gangs to pour into our most vulnerable communities," Trump pontificated during his State of the Union address on January 30. "They've allowed millions of low-wage workers to compete for jobs and wages against the poorest Americans. Most tragically, they have caused the loss of many innocent lives."
Such rhetoric conveniently funnels the conversation about opioids away from complex, evidence-based solutions and toward support for Trump's policy proposals on immigration and other pet issues.
"It is an effort...