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President Trump Leaves Opioid Crisis to Pundit Without Any Public Health Experience

— November 30, 2017

In an ambitious effort to combat America’s great opioid crisis, President Donald Trump has appointed a conservative pollster and talk-show pundit as a top narcotics consultant.

Acting on the advice of some of his closest advisers to appoint an opioid “czar,” Trump picked Kellyanne Conway for the post.

Conway – a law school graduate and former pollster – is best known for her work in television and politics. The 50-year old woman has conducted surveys for a wealth of organizations, ranging from American Express to Ladies Home Journal.

She found herself making national headlines during the 2016 campaign and election.

Initially associating herself with Ted Cruz, she was picked up by the Trump team and hired as a senior adviser. By August, she’d been appointed campaign manager, and is, according to The Week, the first woman to run a successful bid for the presidency.

While there’s no denying that Conway is experienced in the world of politics and campaigning, she’s most noteworthy in her new position as Opioid Czar for having no background in public health administration.

New York Magazine is kind enough to note that Conway was part of the Trump campaign’s initial “opioid response” group. Her responsibilities included – but were no means limited to – backing up Trump’s wily assertions and oddball claims on cable television. She even claimed to have received death threats from Hillary Clinton supporters following Trump’s ascension from reality television star to chief executive.

A map from The Economist depicting the severity of the opioid crisis around the United States, by county, in 2015.

There are only a scant handful of quotes and interviews which show what approach Conway might take to handling the opioid crisis. listed several transcript excerpts.

On one occasion wherein Conway offered her insight, she said the opioid crisis is “very complicated,” adding that “currently we are on the losing side of this war.”

“We are a nation that consumes legal and illegal drugs at a very high and alarming rate,” Conway said, noting most of the work being done to combat substance abuse is being done “at the state and local levels.”

She did opine that any solution to the “nonpartisan issue” must come as part of a bipartisan response.

Conway’s comments – largely reasonable and balanced – didn’t stop detractors from thrashing her over another interview.

Earlier in the summer, the former pollster seemingly suggested that opioid addicts would have less of a problem if only they possessed more willpower.

“It takes money, and it also takes a four-letter word called “will,” said Conway, responding to a question about how proposed GOP cuts to Medicaid could hurt addicts.

After President Trump declared opioid abuse a “national emergency” in October, Conway spoke to Fox News about his speech, saying he “echoed the message that many healthcare providers and elected officials say, which is that the best way to stop people dying from overdoses and drug abuse is by not starting in the first place.”

So far, Conway’s publicly proposed fixes have been devoid of either great detail or depth – she’s called for better drug education, rehabilitative practices, and increased enforcement of existing substance regulations.


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