The opioid epidemic has been a longstanding and increasingly recognizable public health issue in the United States. In an additional effort to combat this escalating issue, President Donald Trump on Tuesday rolled out his plan for tackling what he calls "the crisis next door."

"For generations, the American dream was built on the idea that our children will live longer and more prosperous lives than ever before," Trump said. "Tragically, for many of our fellow citizens, the opioid crisis has replaced the American dream with the nightmare of addiction — a terrible, terrible situation."

The plan is regarded as one of the more comprehensive agenda items that has been released since the Trump administration declared the opioid epidemic a public health emergency in October 2017. The three-part plan focuses on:

  • increasing the degree of penalties to include the death penalty that will be levied upon drug dealers and those engaged in the trafficking of opioids
  • increasing access to addiction treatment, including harm reduction approaches
  • decreasing the number of opioid prescriptions given out by physicians

"The only way to solve the drug problem is through toughness," Trump said. "When you catch a drug dealer, you've got to put him away for a long time."

It is astonishing to know that more Americans died as a result of drug overdoses in 2016 than reported deaths in the entire Vietnam War. Most of these overdoses were associated with opioid use, including a large amount linked to fentanyl. The opioid epidemic is considered to the be deadliest drug overdose crisis that the United States has experienced in its history, with 64,000 deaths reported in 2016.

With this plan in place, what remains to be seen is how this will be adopted into laws by Congress and whether there will be enough funding to support all of these efforts. While it is refreshing to hear a strong stance on the opioid crisis, some think there was a level of vagueness during Trump's speech as to how these plans will be implemented.

For example, what steps will be taken to decrease the prescribing of opioids? How will access to addiction treatment be expanded to those who are in the midst of dealing with their personal addictions? These are questions that require additional expansion or clarification over time in order to have an impact on the epidemic.

In the meantime, some of the steps that are currently being taken include officials holding physicians more accountable for the unscrupulous prescribing of opioids, with threats of the loss of medical licenses or even incarceration. Also, states such as Louisiana and Indiana have moved forward with taking a stricter and tougher stance on the incarceration of drug traffickers. While the approach has been in place for decades, the escalating number of deaths has placed a spotlight on opioid trafficking.

The overarching goal is to target the opioid epidemic head on to address the unauthorized or illegal access to these dangerous agents. Trump's new opioid plan focuses on strict accountability for those who allow unapproved access to these drugs, while also focusing on increasing the level of treatment for those individuals who are currently struggling with opioid addiction.

Hopefully, Trump's plan is a step in the right direction for slowing down this deadly epidemic.