The Trump administration's revival of the war on drugs raises questions about how that strategy will combat America's opioid epidemic. (Photo illustration by The Cannabist, Thinkstock/Getty Images)

Trump administration’s cannabis obsession in face of opioid epidemic is absurd

Police near Daytona Beach, Fla., recently came upon an SUV with the motor running and three little kids in the back. The parents were dead in front from a fentanyl overdose.

The city of East Liverpool, Ohio, posted a shocking photograph of another overdosed couple, heads back and mouths open from a heroin overdose, a 4-year-old strapped in back. As its Facebook page explained, “It is time that the non drug using public sees what we are now dealing with on a daily basis.”

An opioid epidemic is upon us. In 2015, drug overdoses took an estimated 52,000 lives, about two-thirds of the cases tied to opioid abuse. Opioids are painkilling drugs. They include such prescription medications as Vicodin, OxyContin and Percocet. Laws designed to tighten the abuse of the legal substances have driven addicts to switch to heroin and more deadly synthetic opioids.

President Trump pledged to end America’s “terrible drug epidemic.” What his administration has done about it so far is useless or worse.

I had to rub my eyes and check the wall calendar on reading that Attorney General Jeff Sessions plans to revive the war against marijuana. Never mind that deaths from marijuana overdoses are virtually unheard of.

Sessions also vows to put more drug addicts behind bars for longer periods of time. This ignores a growing bipartisan movement to slow the incarceration of nonviolent drug offenders. Many see it as pointless and a massive waste of money. Conservative lawmakers in Louisiana and Utah are helping lead the charge.

Enlightened police departments, meanwhile, are working to demilitarize their approach to drugs. In Seattle, for example, officers are giving users and low-level dealers a choice between joining a program and being arrested.

So Sessions goes to Long Island promising to finish off the violent MS-13 gang. Good idea, the rational mind thinks, but then why is he wasting precious resources jailing high schoolers caught smoking pot behind the bleachers?

The war against drugs is especially futile when dealing with opioids. In the old days, it wasn’t terribly difficult for drug agents to notice Mexican traffickers using catapults to hurl huge bales of marijuana over the wall and into Arizona. Now synthetic opioids are being bought on the darknet, where buyers can go undetected.

Fentanyl is up to 100 times more powerful than morphine, and a few flakes can kill. Authorities in South Carolina booked a man who possessed more than 3 kilograms of fentanyl bought off the darknet — enough to end 1.5 million lives.

How are you going to stop the trafficking of something that can be mailed to homes in ordinary first-class envelopes?

Over a million Americans have found treatment for their addictions through Medicaid. In Pennsylvania alone, some 124,000 people depend on Medicaid to help them in the hard battle to kick their compulsion.

That makes this a heck of a time for the Republican-controlled House to pass a bill chopping $880 billion from Medicaid over 10 years, which it just did. Trump’s budget would amputate another $610 billion from the program covering low-income Americans.

The war on drugs has long been condemned as a dismal failure, except as a job creation program for drug agents, prison guards, judges and lawyers. In 2015 alone, it drained an estimated $36 billion from the pockets of federal and local taxpayers.

There was no stopping the flow of drugs when cocaine came in kilo packages. There’s certainly no way to stop flakes bought anonymously and paid for with bitcoin.

On confronting the opioid epidemic, the Trump administration rates a zero. It doesn’t even have an act to get together. That’s American leadership in 2017, and it hurts to watch.

Updated June 16, 2017 at 7:32 a.m. The following corrected information has been added to this article: The op-ed misreported information involving a couple from East Liverpool, Ohio, who were found to have overdosed in a vehicle and were later revived.

E-mail Froma Harrop at Follow her on Twitter: @FromaHarrop

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