Chris Christie, Opiate Czar: Treat Addiction “Like AIDS” (But Don’t Legalize Marijuana)

Photo by Michael Vadon via Flickr

For helping elect President Donald Trump, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s reward is solving the nation’s opiate crisis.

Christie is chair of a national commission on opiate abuse. Trump saw fit to form the Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis quickly, putting it together in March, even before he named a new White House-level drug czar.

As fast as Trump moved, the crisis worsened even more quickly.

Deaths from opiate overdoses are skyrocketing across the country—particularly in areas that voted heavily for Trump. Among Trump’s campaign promises was a pledge to reverse or at least slow down this trend. With drug overdoses outpacing car accidents as the most common cause of accidental death, this is one area where Trump’s most strident critics should wish him success.

At first, selecting Christie seemed like a recipe for failure.

As New Jersey governor, Christie made a name for himself as a retrograde drug warrior on issues like medical marijuana, the availability of which has been shown to cut down prescription pill use, including opiates—and as a presidential candidate, Christie adopted an even harder line.

But for some reason—perhaps because he’s no longer running for office and is in his last year as governor—Christie has discovered reason. Visiting a police department in Tom’s River, New Jersey, Christie exhorted the public to start treating opiate abuse like the AIDS crisis.

In 1995, the year rapper Eazy-E and writer Paul Monette succumbed to the disease, nearly 50,000 Americans died from AIDS. AIDS was the leading cause of death for Americans between the ages of 25 and 44, the New York Times reported that year.

Over the next few years, unprecedented resources were devoted towards fighting the disease. Almost immediately, researchers discovered new drugs, and doctors devised new drug “cocktails.” By 1997, AIDS deaths had dropped 42 percent.

Christie drew a direct comparison.

“Think about what the response of America was in 1995,” he said, according to the Asbury Park Press. “We had national institutes of health and every private pharmaceutical company with the government’s support struggling to get treatments—not cures—treatments to extend the lives of people who suffered from HIV and AIDS. I don’t get, feel the same sense of urgency in this country about this problem.”

“People considered AIDS, if you remember, at the beginning of the AIDS epidemic as something people did to themselves,” Christie added. “We have the same feeling today about drug abuse—If you never tried it in the first place, you wouldn’t have these problems. We rejected that approach with HIV/AIDS, and we need today to reject that approach on the treatment of drug abuse.”

Good. Good! This is Chris Christie, Trump appointee, speaking sense. He should be applauded.

At the same time, he should not be given a pass for speaking the official White House line—that marijuana has no place in the conversation about opiates.

According to the Press, Christie repeated his earlier opposition to marijuana legalization, using the many times debunked gateway theory as his reasoning. This would put him in line with other Trump administration officials, including Attorney General Jeff Sessions and other mainstream Republicans like Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who recently offered that marijuana has “no place” in stopping the opiate crisis.

Christie’s record on the opiate crisis as governor is still questionable.

According to STATNews, there are more than 70,000 people seeking treatment for substance abuse in the state, where Christie has provided funding for no more than 6,000 beds. It’s unfair to blame it all or even partially on Christie, but the record does show that during his term, deaths from overdoses continue to rise. Maybe whatever he’s tried isn’t working. Whatever the exact cause, he’s in no position to dismiss anything out of hand. 

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