John Oliver Bashes Trump's Opioid Crisis Solution As Dangerously "Underwhelming"
On Sunday's episode of Last Week Tonight, host John Oliver condemned Trump's plan to combat the opioid crisis by using an ad campaign. The host took the president to task for his myriad of lackluster suggestions regarding how to end the national crisis, which kills almost 100 Americans per day from overdoses.
Oliver opened the show by noting that Trump has promised to end the opioid crisis for quite some time — since the 2016 presidential campaign to be exact. But, thus far, the execution of this promise has fallen short. Particularly, Oliver slammed Trump for suggesting that an ad simply encouraging Americans to not start taking opioids would be enough to end the crisis. Oliver then played a clip of Trump proposing the ad campaign. The president said,
It's really, really easy not to take them. And I think that's going to end up being our most important thing. Really tough, really big, really great advertising. So we get to people to stop before they start.
Oliver appeared aghast at Trump's suggestion and pointed out that it would likely do little to help those already addicted to opioids. As the host noted,
So an ad campaign. Sure, it is important not to start abusing opioids. But that doesn't really help the people who area already struggling with addiction. It's kind of like seeing someone neck deep in quick sand and then putting up a 'don't do quicksand' sign.
Oliver also pointed out that previous anti-drug ad campaigns, like the "Just Say No" campaign helmed by the Reagan administration, have also been very limited in their ability to successfully curb drug use, leaving him to wonder why Trump is again suggesting an anti-drug ad campaign.
The late night host did commend Trump for giving attention to the crisis, but noted that Trump has thus far seemingly failed to offer any solutions that will comprehensively and effectively address the problem. As Oliver noted, while Trump recently declared the opioid crisis a "public health emergency," the consequences of this declaration are limited in scope.
For example, declaring the crisis a public health emergency allows money from the national public health emergency fund to be used to combat the issue. However, as Oliver pointed out on the show, the fund only has around $56,000 dollars available — while the federal government estimates that, in actuality, addressing the opioid crisis would cost around $75 billion per year.
The Intercept, which recently reported on the issue, pointed out that characterizing the opioid crisis as a public health emergency, rather than a national emergency, has severely limited available funding. If the issue had been declared a national emergency, funds to combat it would be available via the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), though FEMA funding for the crisis would have to compete with funding for hurricane relief in Texas, Florid, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
On the show, Oliver expressed his dismay at the limited funds available to address the crisis thus far:
It's true. Trump has finally chimed in with his two cents on how to tackle this crisis and it allows the 2.6 million Americans addicted to opioids literally about two cents each. So Trump's fix for our opioid epidemic essentially boils down to: here's two pennies, go throw then in a f***ing mall fountain and wish your addiction away.
While senior White House officials told CNN last week that the administration plans to follow up the public health emergency declaration by working with Congress to increase funds available in the public health emergency fund, the network noted that this fund increase is far from guaranteed. Many, including Oliver, will likely be closely watching to see what, if any, further action Trump or Congress takes to address the crisis in light of the public health emergency declaration, as the thousands of Americans currently battling opioid addiction certainly need urgent assistance.