Letter to the Editor | Drug addiction must not be politically weaponized
October 20, 2020
During last week’s presidential debate, many of the substantive and policy points were overshadowed by toxic and derogatory comments, particularly those made by President Trump. Among the chaos, the President made several disturbing and detrimental attacks on former Vice President Biden’s son, Hunter Biden.
Amid a conversation of military service, President Trump blasted Vice President Biden for his son’s cocaine use, stating, “l don’t know Beau. I know Hunter. Hunter got thrown out of the military. He was thrown out, dishonorably discharged for cocaine use.” In mentioning Vice President Biden’s son, President Trump attempted to denigrate former Vice President Biden by attacking a father for the drug use of his son. In doing so, he not only unfairly attacked his political opponent but added to the stigma of drug use and further worsened the challenge of drug use in America.
The lasting effect of these disparaging comments is added stigma towards people who drugs. It adds to the shame of substance use disorders and increases the barriers to care faced by people in need. When individuals struggle with drug use, they face significant obstacles for seeking the help they need. Because of stigma, many individuals are deterred from speaking openly about their struggles and consequently do not obtain the medical care they need.
In recent years, the President has increased funding for the treatment of substance use disorders through the expansion of Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration grants. These changes have been echoed within executive orders, including the recent declaration of Prescription Opioid and Heroin Epidemic Awareness Week.
But these efforts are undercut by the President’s recent attacks on the former Vice President. Even with the expansion of medical treatments, access to these treatments is reduced by stigma, including stigma made by using addiction as a political insult.
Cocaine use, and more generally drug use, should never be used as a political cudgel. Individuals with substance use disorders are suffering from diagnosable medical conditions. Especially during a time of dramatic increases in the harmful use of substances, we should work to reduce the obstacles to care, which includes working to reduce the burden of stigma and not adding to its detrimental effect.
Sean is a law student at the University of Illinois.