The Opioid Crisis

On October 26th, 2017, President Trump declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency. After reiterating the seriousness of the situation, he began to tie his plan to decrease drug use in the U.S. back to his plan to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, emphasizing the amount of heroin that comes into the U.S. from countries south of the border. However, many are wondering just how effective Trump’s plan will be, especially when considering past efforts to stunt the distribution of drugs.

The U.S. has had a long history of fighting drug abuse. Government intervention against the use of illegal drugs dates back to the late 19th century with opium and cocaine, with countless instances in which the government has fought to prevent exploitation of illicit substances. However, history has proven many government efforts to be futile. Fighting drug abuse has been increasingly difficult, and past government campaigns have attempted to solve the problem from nearly every angle.

For example, take Richard Nixon’s strategy from the early 1970’s. Similar to Trump’s current plan, Nixon focused primarily on the suppliers of the drugs being used in the United States. More specifically, he focused on Mexico. On September 21, 1969 Nixon launched Operation Intercept, which nearly shut down the U.S.-Mexico border. The closing of the border cost hundreds of millions of dollars, and about 57,164 pounds of marijuana were taken from people crossing the border, all in the span of about 5 months. For a short amount of time, Operation Intercept succeeded at preventing illegal drugs from crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, but it wasn’t long before other countries quickly became new suppliers of illegal substances. At that moment it became clear that closing off borders would eventually prove to be insufficient, despite the temporary fix it provided. The international demand for drugs and illegal substances greatly outweighed the risk, and that continues to hold true today.

Other than Richard Nixon’s effort to cut off the supply of illegal drugs, there have been alternative strategies used to take on our country’s drug abuse. One notable instance of this is Ronald Reagan’s approach. Reagan had taken an entirely different angle on fighting drug abuse, saying, “It’s far more effective if you take the customers away than if you try to take the drugs away from those who want to be customers.”  His campaign to educate and rehabilitate the “customers” he had spoken of sounded like a brilliant plan. However, government funding for programs such as these did not reflect his ideas. The annual amount of funding for programs that worked to eliminate drug use increased by hundred of millions of dollars during the beginning of Reagan’s presidency, and the funding for education and rehabilitation programs were cut by about 4 million dollars. In the end, Reagan’s campaign proved to be inadequate in preventing illicit substance use.

Although Trump seems confident in his plans to decrease drug abuse, the future looks bleak for those negatively affected by addiction, especially when past attempts are taken into consideration. Interdicting the supply of drugs from other countries has already proven to be an insufficient approach, and building a wall along the border will most likely accomplish little in stunting the distribution of drugs. With the Trump administration beginning their own efforts to prevent substance abuse, focusing primarily on opioids, all we can do is hope that history is taken into consideration. There are many lessons to be learned from the actions of former presidents fighting for a similar cause, and hopefully Trump recognizes those mistakes and does his best to prevent them from being repeated.



“United States War on Drugs” The United States War on Drugs, Stanford,

Merica, Dan. “Trump Declares Opioid Epidemic a Public Health Emergency.” CNN, Cable News Network, 26 Oct. 2017,