How Is Trump's War on Drugs Going?

While President Donald Trump and his cabinet are consistently winning on the issues they care about, it’s going to take a lot of time and patience to clean up most of the mess Barack Obama left in his wake. One such issue is the war on drugs -- something that was virtually nonexistent during the previous presidency.

At the end of the Obama presidency, statistics and reports showed that drug-induced deaths were on the rise, as was the use of drugs among American youth. As David W. Murray of the Weekly Standard suggested in December 2016, this is anything but coincidental.

“Simply put, it appears inescapable that the two sets of findings are related,” Murray notes, “in that the flood of commercial, high-potency marijuana unleashed by legalization in the states has served as a ‘gateway’ to the opioid problem, both by priming greater drug use by those who initiate with heavy, developmentally early marijuana use, and further by empowering the illicit drug market controlled by criminal cartels.”

While the left would argue differently -- and there’s certainly a case to be made for their opinion -- Obama was extremely lax on drugs and drug abuse. Not only did the decriminalization of marijuana in many states happen under his watch, but Obama was very vocal on treating drug addiction “as a public-health issue, the same way we do with cigarettes or alcohol.”

While Obama was certainly correct in his belief that you can’t arrest and incarcerate addiction out of people, he used this as an excuse for basically turning away from the problem and leaving people to their own devices.

The war on drugs that Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush enacted during their presidencies admittedly had few long-term effects, but Obama’s was equally as disastrous. Not only are we in the midst of the most serious opioid crisis the country has ever seen, but much of the country’s law enforcement departments were essentially told to “stand down” for eight years.

The question is, can President Trump do anything about it? Or is it too late?

How Trump Can Wage an Effective War on Drugs

While the Obama administration purposefully avoided any use of the phrase “war on drugs,” the Trump administration -- and particularly Attorney General Jeff Sessions -- is embracing it. They want to be tough on drugs, whilst recognizing that many aspects of drug addiction are, as Obama rightfully noted, a public health concern.

Here are a few specific things the Trump administration can do to get a grasp on this issue:

1. Close the Gap Between Reality and Perception

One of the biggest issues we have in this country is that people have this perception of drug addicts as people who are homeless and rough around the edges. While there are certainly addicts who fit this description, many are much harder to spot.

“The criminalization of drugs and drug users has led our social imagination to conjure a vision of the addict as a hollow-eyed fiend overwhelmed by drug-lust,” former heroin addict Elizabeth Brico writes. “Today's archetypal ‘heroin junkie’ mirrors the absurdity of the pot-crazed teens from the Reefer Madness era, except that the idea of addiction sufferers as criminals is now so embedded into our culture that even those of us with addictions have stopped questioning it.”

It’s important that we, as a society, close the gap between reality and perception. The sooner we start to realize that many victims of the opioid crisis look just like the rest of us, the sooner we’ll be able to take the issue seriously and bring solutions into communities where drug abuse is lurking behind closed doors. The Trump administration should create strategy within this context.

2. Greater Focus on Therapy and Treatment

One of the biggest issues with the previous war on drugs – as well as the avoidance of the issue by the previous administration -- is that there hasn’t been enough focus on actually treating the underlying causes of addiction. While medication is often necessary to wean someone off a drug addiction, it’s rarely the best or most effective method.

“Regular, directed, and supportive therapeutic intervention with a professional who is an expert in the treatment of addiction, as well as the treatment of any co-occurring disorders, is essential,” American Addiction Centers explains. “It is not enough to simply want to see great change. Rather, a significant time investment that helps to promote a steady shift in perspectives and behaviors that influence cravings and other triggers is needed.”

The more the Trump administration can focus on therapy and treatment, the more sustainable the results will be.

3. Gain Control of the Border

While it’s still a hot button issue between the left and right, building a wall along the southern border -- something the Trump administration still firmly supports -- would play a critically important role in reducing the trafficking of illicit drugs across the border. While drug dealers would still find ways to sneak some drugs across, it would greatly curb supply and increase prices. This would hopefully provide an opportunity for more drug education at a young age (prior to exposure).

4. Legalization of Marijuana

We’ve seen a huge shift in the number of people who are in support of the legalization of marijuana over the past decade. But what’s most shocking is that it’s not just those on the left. According to a recent Gallup poll, 51 percent of Republicans support legalization. (That figure is up from 42 percent the previous year, and just 20 percent in 2004.)

This shift means that Trump now has the support of his base -- at least a majority of it -- to pursue legalization. Considering that this is something he’s most likely okay with personally and ideologically (remember, he’s actually very liberal on many social issues), it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch.

Legalization of marijuana would inject billions of dollars into the American economy over the next few years. A large portion of the tax generated from the legal sale of marijuana could then be used to fund therapy and treatment for those afflicted by opioid addiction.

Can the War on Drugs be Victorious?

It’s foolish to think that the war on drugs can be successfully waged in a single presidency. It’s going to take decades for a solution to be successfully implemented. However, what past presidents have done hasn’t worked. Whether it was the GOP’s aggressive stance in the 1980s and 1990s, or Obama’s lax approach of the previous eight years, the Trump administration must try something new.