How the Presidential Candidates Plan to Tackle the Addiction Crisis in America

The was a brief period earlier in the presidential campaign when several candidates suddenly talked a lot about the opioid addiction epidemic in America. Unfortunately, it was mostly driven by candidates no longer in the race and now you don’t hear all that much about it anymore.

Jeb Bush talked about the “heartbreak” he felt about his daughter Noelle’s drug addiction. Chris Christie made an emotional plea for better treatment on Facebook and Carly Fiorina talked about her stepdaughter Lori Ann’s death after a battle with prescription drugs and alcohol.

For a while, the discussion seemed to emphasize that drug addiction is widespread and can hit any family in America. More recently, the focus has been back on national security and the economy.

A look at the websites of the remaining five candidates illustrates that the opioid epidemic and treatment for drug addiction are no longer top talking points.

Only Hillary Clinton offers a whole page dedicated to “Substance Use Disorder and Addiction” as one of 30 topics on her issues page. She talks about a “quiet epidemic,” describing SUDs as a problem that “touches Americans everywhere, from our biggest cities to our smallest towns, and from our richest enclaves to our poorest neighborhoods.”

Clinton’s plan to “combat America’s deadly epidemic of drug and alcohol addiction” includes preventive programming, treatment and recovery, naloxone for first responders, monitoring prescriptions, and rehabilitation for drug addicts over punitive measures. Her plan calls for federal-state partnerships and immediate federal actions which include ensuring that federal insurance parity laws are enforced.

Donald Trump has a 43-second video on his campaign website which talks about the “drug epidemic” in New Hampshire. As a solution, Mr. Trump offers to fortify the border with Mexico with a wall to stop drugs from “pouring into the United States.” Elsewhere, he promised to “try and help the young people and the old people and the middle-aged people and everybody that got addicted.” So far, Trump has not offered specific strategies on how to help those Americans.

Ted Cruz, John Kasich, and Bernie Sanders do not outline specific ideas to combat drug and alcohol addiction on their campaign websites, either.

Despite sharing the story of his half-sister Miriam’s struggle with addiction on the campaign trail, Ted Cruz does not list drug addiction as one of his top issues on his website. Like his Republican rival Donald Trump, he wants to fortify the border with Mexico but with an emphasis on curtailing illegal immigration. Cruz has suggested that he is prepared to support more federal funding for drug prevention programs but also said solutions need to come from the local level.  

John Kasich is the governor of a state hit particularly hard by the opioid epidemic. During campaign events, the Ohio governor regularly calls a child in attendance to the front to tell him or her not to do drugs. Kasich has formed an Opiate Action Team to combat the crisis. In 2014, Ohio registered 2,744 drug overdose deaths, a record for the state.

As governor, he signed legislation which makes the opioid antagonist naloxone more available and he has described addiction as a “disease” that knows no bounds and can be found everywhere. Nevertheless, Kasich did not make drug addiction one of the 11 main topics on his website.

Bernie Sanders has stated that “addiction is a disease, not a criminal activity.” The Vermont senator has criticized the “war on drugs” as a failed policy and prefers treatment over incarceration for nonviolent drug offenders. The current prescription painkiller and heroin epidemic Sanders mostly blames on the corporate greed of drug companies. “There’s a responsibility on the part of the pharmaceutical industry and the drug companies who are producing all of these drugs and not looking at the consequence of it,” he said at a Democratic debate earlier this year.


Sanders supports the legalization of marijuana for medical and recreational purposes. Berniesanders.com lists 28 topics on its issues page, none of which directly address drug addiction and treatment.

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