Blog | Addiction Recovery

What Kind of Addiction and Mental Health President Will Donald Trump Be?

Donald-TrumpWhen it comes to how a Trump presidency will view addiction issues, two eyebrow-raising facts have emerged.

First, Donald Trump has spoken openly about how he lost his older brother, Fred, to alcoholism at a young age. Fred’s death and the events leading to it impacted Donald in such a way that he never has touched alcohol or cigarettes, he told the New York Times.

Second, Trump has spoken harshly about ending the opioid epidemic through a two-pronged plan of tough border patrol and general law enforcement and making sure the people who need rehabilitation, get it.

“A Trump Administration will secure and defend our borders, and yes, we will build a wall,” he said in a campaign speech given in New Hampshire on Oct. 15. “A wall will not only keep out dangerous cartels and criminals, but it will also keep out the drugs and heroin poisoning our youth.”1

He went on to credit his running mate, former Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, for addressing the issue of opioid addiction in his state. “Mike increased the mandatory minimum sentences for the most serious drug offenders, while expanding access to treatment and prevention options for those struggling with addiction,” Trump said. “We must make similar efforts a priority for the nation. Not too long ago we read about Christopher Honor and Courtney Griffin — a young Rockingham County couple who died of an overdose within a year of each other. Their story of prescription drugs, heroin, wait times for treatment and missed opportunity in the court system are a tragic reminder of why we need a plan to end the opioid epidemic.”

It’s a message that apparently resonated with voters. Trump’s propulsion to the presidency came largely from dozens of rustbelt counties across America that recently have gone Democratic in presidential elections. In fact, a reporter for the website Slate said he “fell into” writing about Trump while documenting addiction in America for his “Faces of Addiction” series. “’Wherever I see hope exiting, I see Trump and drugs entering,'” decidedly left-leaning Slate reported in a story headlined “Is the Opioid Crisis Partly to Blame for President Trump?”2

In an interview with the Cape Code Times, Maryanne Frangules, executive director of the Massachusetts Organization for Addiction Recovery, said of Trump’s speech: “In truth, it is not a bad plan for addiction prevention, treatment and recovery. It’s just up to us to make sure that happens.”3

Will Trump Put Money Where His Mouth Is?

The Trump transition team did not return emails from asking for comment and for additional details on Trump’s plans to fight addiction. But his history and past comments suggest he will be much tougher from a law enforcement standpoint than President Obama, yet more compassionate than one might expect toward the addicted.

In theory, that would mean putting money where his mouth is to make sure people who need treatment can get it.

“President Obama has commuted the sentences of record numbers of high level drug traffickers, many of them kingpins, and violent armed traffickers with extensive criminal histories,” Trump said in the New Hampshire speech. “It is tragedy enough that so many Americans are struggling with life-threatening addiction. We should not compound that tragedy with government policies and bureaucratic rules that make it even harder for them to get help.”

“It is tragedy enough that so many Americans are struggling with life-threatening addiction. We should not compound that tragedy with government policies and bureaucratic rules that make it even harder for them to get help.”Donald Trump

He is a big supporter of opioid replacement therapy and wants to make it easier for the addicted to get such medications. “The FDA has been far too slow to approve abuse-deterring drugs, and when the FDA has approved these medications, the rules have been far too restrictive, severely limiting the number of authorized prescribers as well as the number of patients each doctor can treat,” Trump said in the New Hampshire speech, which has been dubbed “The Opioid Speech.”

He went on to say, “Recovery medications have the potential to save thousands and thousands of lives.”

While some have argued that opioid replacement therapy simply replaces an addict’s fix, these medications can also allow them to return to productive living, so that they can hold down jobs and relationships. Substance abuse disorder is defined as causing “impairment” and “distress.” When these issues are eliminated, it would appear that the addiction has been addressed even if the physical dependency has not.

The question remains whether sufficient funding will make treatment available to all Americans, particularly if Trump ushers in an era of lower taxes. Trump has said he supports the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, which sailed through Congress with bipartisan support but no funding.

Can Trump Show Compassion for the Addicted?

Despite taking a tough stance against drug trafficking and related crimes, Trump has shown compassion for the addicted.

In his book “Think Big,” Trump, former owner of the Miss USA and Miss Universe pageants, writes about how he planned to fire Miss USA Tara Conner after she broke pageant rules by using drugs and alcohol.

But after meeting with her, he had a change of heart. “Tara is willing to learn from her mistake and not let it happen again,” Trump wrote.4 “I decided it was better to give her a second chance than to destroy her career and ruin her chances in life. She finished her reign and continues to support the goals of Miss USA completely. She agreed to go to rehab and now is doing fine.”

But the New York Times, however, did not paint Trump as wholly compassionate.

“Donald put Freddy down quite a bit,” the Times quoted family acquaintance Annamaria Schifano as saying. “There was a lot of combustion.”5

The Times, which Donald Trump was at war with throughout his campaign, wrote in their story about Fred, “For Mr. Trump, a presidential candidate whose appeal is predicated on an aura of toughness, personal achievement and personal success, the story of Freddy, a handsome, gregarious and self-destructive figure who died as an alcoholic in 1981 at the age of 43 is bleak and seldom told.”

Donald Trump on Mental Health Issues

Health-Care-ReformAbout half of all people with substance use disorder also have a co-occurring mental health disorder. That’s why it’s important to treat both conditions concurrently to insure a lasting recovery.

Trump does mention mental health, albeit briefly, as part of his overall health platform listed on his website. “Finally, we need to reform our mental health programs and institutions in this country. Families, without the ability to get the information needed to help those who are ailing, are too often not given the tools to help their loved ones. There are promising reforms being developed in Congress that should receive bipartisan support.”6

Both Trump and his opponent, Hillary Clinton, painted each other as mentally unstable during the ugly campaign. This hardly advanced the national conversation about mental health in a positive way. Both candidates in fact helped stigmatize mental illness with the words they chose on the campaign trail, mental health advocates have argued.

Finally, it remains to be seen how Trump will align himself on the legalization of marijuana, which still is not legal under federal law even though it is legal in many states.

More and more research is emerging every week showing the dangers of marijuana use, particularly among people with mental illness. Trump has supported the cautious legalization of medical marijuana, Healthline News reported.7

A story by Healthline News shortly after the election noted that while Nov. 8 was “a good night for supporters of marijuana legislation,” it was “tempered by the election of Republican Donald Trump, who has been ambiguous on the subject of legalizing recreational marijuana and has friends in his inner circle who’ve been vocally against it.”


  1. Donald Trump outlines plan to end opioid epidemic in America. (2016, Oct. 15). Retrieved Dec. 17, 2016, from
  2. Siegel, Z. (2016, Dec. 16). Is the Opioid Crisis Partly to Blame for President Trump? Slate. Retrieved Dec. 17, 2016
  3. Myers, K.C. (2016, Nov. 17). Trump’s policies on addiction crisis remain uncertain. Cape Cod Times. Retrieved Dec. 17, 2016, from
  4. Trump, Donald J. Think Big. HarperBusiness: New York, 2008.
  5. Horowitz, J. (2016, Jan. 2). For Donald Trump, Lessons from a Brother’s Suffering. The New York Times. Retrieved Dec. 17, 2016, from
  6. Donald J. Trump campaign website. Undated. Health care reform paper. Retrieved Dec. 17, 2016, from
  7. Reno, J. (2016, Nov. 17). Will Trump Administration Crack down on Marijuana laws? Retrieved Dec. 17, 2016, from

Written by David Heitz