'Death sentence.' Opioid addiction experts blast GOP health care repeal


Donald Trump is breaking his campaign pledge to end the opioid abuse crisis and instead will make it much worse.

Donald Trump campaigned on the promise of ending the opioid epidemic, but the recently unveiled Republican health care bill threatens to make the deadly crisis even worse. And despite warnings from his own advisory council, Trump is still pushing for its passage.

Described as the "defining public health challenge of our time," the opioid crisis has thrust America into an unprecedented drug overdose epidemic that killed 52,000 people in 2015 and as many as 65,000 in 2016, making drug overdose the leading cause of death for Americans under the age of 50.

With about 2.66 million Americans struggling with opioid use disorders, the need for treatment and recovery services has never been greater.

That’s why addiction specialists were so alarmed when Senate Republicans released their new health care bill, which allows insurers to drop substance abuse and mental health services from their coverage and effectively wipes out Medicaid, the nation’s largest payer of addiction treatment.

"This is like a death sentence for those getting treatment for substance abuse disorders," Gary Mendell, founder of the addiction-focused non-profit Shatterproof, told the NY Daily News. "You could not create a worse scenario."

Ultimately, the Republican health care plan will place lifesaving treatment out of reach for millions of Americans struggling with substance use disorders. More lives will be lost, more families will be torn apart, and more communities will be devastated by the social and economic costs of untreated addiction.

"The thing we know about addiction is that having coverage does make a difference in terms of people's access and ultimate recovery," Arthur Evans, CEO of the American Psychological Association, told CNN. "[This] bill is going to make it worse. I don't think there's any doubt about that."

While the impact of the plan will be felt by individuals and communities across the country, the very people who voted Trump into office will be hit particularly hard.

According to a CNN analysis, Trump won 18 out of the 25 states with the highest number of drug overdose deaths in 2015. As a candidate, Trump promised voters in these struggling communities that if they elected him, he would devote the resources needed to combat the opioid epidemic. Instead, all he has offered is a punitive approach that treats addiction as a crime and replaces drug rehabilitation centers with jails and prisons.

We’ve tried this "tough on crime" approach before — and it failed miserably, resulting in a taxpayer-funded mass incarceration epidemic that did nothing to address the underlying problem of addiction. The failure of the war on drugs is reflected in recent public opinion polling, which shows that two-thirds of Americans favor treatment over punishment for drug users.

Despite his many promises on the campaign trail, the opioid epidemic is proving to be yet another issue which Trump is doing very little to address. But when it comes to the Republican health care bill, doing nothing at all is the best thing he could do.