Donald Trump’s inviting Rodrigo Duterte to the White House adds to the growing list of victimized, marginalized groups endangered by the incoming administration. Amongst the many targets of his bigoted, xenophobic, racist, ableist, and misogynist assaults, drug addicts, too, may now find a place.

The President-elect’s alleged endorsement of the brutal anti-drug campaign in the Philippines is dangerous and unacceptable. Since June, Duterte, the democratically elected President of the small island nation, has likened himself to Hitler, and by targeting a specific group of individuals and calling for their murder — veiled under the guise of cleaning the streets of violent dealers involved in the drug trade — the shoe seems to fit. There are vigilantes that are acting as de facto gestapo where the government’s military cannot, with what the media are labeling “extra judicial killings.” Thousands of people with substance use disorders have been killed, and many more have been imprisoned and have had their families’ lives threatened.

What is happening in the Philippines is state-sponsored genocide, and is a consequence of the prevailing legacy from an outdated and archaic view: the Moral Theory of Addiction. This theory, common in the 18th and 19th centuries, holds that addiction is a function of weak character and lack of will power, and is the result of poor personal choices around drug use. This line of belief regards the person who cannot, for instance, control their alcohol use, as flawed and corrupt, with a deficient capacity to approach life without the desire to escape pain, seek pleasure through instant gratification, and compensate for feelings inadequacy.

As with most of the verbiage from Mr. Trump, only time will tell what, if any, correlation his volatile, unpredictable public persona may have to an actual policy agenda. But with his presidency masquerading under Republican control of the White House, legislation has the potential of sailing through the Republican controlled Congress. Given the intersection of drug control and enforcement, public health and policy, and healthcare access that sits at the nexus of substance-related issues, including addiction, there is indeed a lot at stake.

So, what are the policy signals made evident by Mr. Trump’s rhetoric? STAT News published a series of articles reporting on the Trump campaign’s take on what to do in response to the ongoing so-called “opiate epidemic.” Of course, as with everything else that would follow the genesis of his meteoric rise in political relevance and voter support, the answer was the wall. In a town hall meeting in Ohio back in August, he said plainly, “cut off the source [of drugs], build a wall. If I win, I’m going to stop it.” Right, the wall. The symbol of Trump’s demonization of the other. Illegal immigration from Mexico is not just a bane on the economy, the cause of the increase in crime, and the favorite scapegoat for the “working class Americans,” but is now also the reason for the rise in addiction. As if the decades long, trillions of dollars, losing campaign known as the war on drugs weren’t obviously racist enough.

Trump’s attempt to elaborate on his position following the election, also known as a complete reversal of his original base-pandering, promised to increase access to naloxone, the life-saving opiate overdose reversal drug, encourage in-patient treatment (i.e. rehab), and call for governmental mandate for addiction treatment. Which is basically a stick-to-the-script attempt at covering up what Trump actually believes to be the “right approach” to addiction, the ongoing murderous cleansing of society happening in the Philippines. And now that he’s at the helm of the most powerful political post in the world, many advocates of recovery and addiction treatment, like almost everyone else, are wary of what will take shape after January.

I am a staunch supporter of treating substance use disorders through embracing a harm reduction approach, which prioritizes reducing fatal overdose and disease transmission, instead of requiring abstinence. I don’t need to “wait and see” what policies Trump actually puts forth, since his lauding of what is arguably the most abhorrent and draconian drug control campaigns in the world is further enflamed by a call for our government to mandate or coerce abstinence-only treatment.

As a graduate student in clinical psychology, with a concentration in mental health and substance abuse counseling, I am dedicating my career to understanding how to better treat people with substance use disorders. I am deeply hurt by our President-elect’s alleged endorsement of this campaign, but it bothers me that somehow it has taken until this point for me to have the visceral reaction that just about every other marginalized group has experienced in the past eighteen months. What I have observed others experiencing but not quite felt myself, suddenly and precisely played out in my own experience from these current events. Since there are many others in majority demographic groups that have yet to react this way, I’ll end my post with this famous poem many are likely familiar with, which is engraved on a stone at the New England Holocaust Memorial in Boston, a place I called home for many years:

“They came first for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak up because I was Protestant.

Then they came for me, and by that time no one was left to speak up.”

By Martin Niemoeller(Life time: 14 January 1892 – 6 March 1984) - Original publication: source:, Public Domain,
By Martin Niemoeller(Life time: 14 January 1892 – 6 March 1984) – Original publication:…Immediate source:…, Public Domain,

9 thoughts on “Trump Calls Killing Addicts, “Right Approach”

  1. I am new to work in this field, but I share your concern. I don’t think we need to wonder about what Trump has said and what he will do. He seems to prey on any vulnerability (and I am deliberately avoiding the word weakness). People who become addicted to drugs, legal or illegal, are not weak willed. The addiction takes on a life of its own, and it becomes physical or physiological along with social and psychological. I am more amazed by people who manage to beat addiction or live with a lifelong relationship to it than I am judgmental of those who cannot kick it. And we all know the pharmaceutical industry has made a fortune giving out drugs like opiates and benzos. I suspect Trump will let them line their pockets and punish the victims, who are barely making it already. We have to keep speaking up. And yes, not wait until Trump feels personal.

    1. I agree with Corey. There is too much hysteria around already. Too many people are devastated and retreating into a fetal position.

      Instead, let us figure out what each of us together with others can do in the relevant areas under threat from racial republican policies disguised by trumps persona. There are many: environment, women’s rights, unionism, immigrant’s rights, and my own stress, namely health. Stop fighting what is at the moment merely imaginary. What is real, are his cabinet choices, and they should be fought. John Kerry just responded to one of these.

      Stop the monaing and groaning and retreat to contemplation and devotion and other pseudo religious activities. Grow up!

      1. It is not one or the other– hysterical reaction or targeted political resistance. Hysteria is understandable and even an interesting reaction to Trump in that it was originally used by Freud to refer to women and emotional excess and somatization of their symptoms, which were, when unravelled, a story of being robbed of power or agency. I agree that Trump is just the outing of a radical agenda on the right — thinly veiled, or surfaced, however you want to put it. For some people hysteria is a call to action, the beginning of action and NOT going into a fetal position. As for Trump’s cabinet choices, we can with them all we want, we don’t have a say. It seems that the first order of business has to be undermining all the redistricting and voter suppression or what people want simply won’t matter.

  2. Was there an actual endorsement by Trump of the Phillipine brutal anti-illegal-drug campaign? I couldn’t find any comments directly made by him anywhere. All I found were articles about what Trump allegedly say according to Duterte. I did find a campaign speech in which he broadly referred to his prospective approach to the issue in the United States.

    Your view on what you see happening in the Phillipines is very interesting. It would stand on its own without having to bring in allegations of what may have been said and what it might imply. There will be more than enough time to comment on Trump’s plans or actions when they occur. Personally, I’m reluctant to deal with allegations.

    1. The problem with Trump is that he seems to hold positions, but in his brevity and vagueness one can’t be sure exactly what he is saying. Duterte asserted that Trump supports his anti-drug campaign and Trump has invited Duterte to the White House This suggests but doesn’t prove something deeply disturbing. I hope it is not as bad as it seems, but I fear that it very well may be. There is a pattern developing with the President elect that cannot be ignored.

      1. I was commenting narrowly on an issue that concerns me. I find it more helpful to focus on policies and actions than personalities. In part, this come from my many years in the business world and my combat experience. I think there is too much time and energy spent on “allegations.” I have taken to always going to primary sources now because so much questionable information gets passed around. To many questionable things echo through the digital universe that cause more anger than enlightenment. I see this as being very different than critiquing first person statements, policies and actions. I saw that Duterte was invited to the White House. For me, the most important thing is what is actually said during the visit, and the actions that follow. We currently deal with leaders with dispicable positions all over the world. Communicating with them isn’t the problem. Agreements and actions may be depending upon what they are. That part of the Pacific Ocean is becoming unstable and developments in that area may be problematic for us and virtually anyone who uses international sea lanes. The Philippines are strategically positioned.

        1. And I was commenting broadly. My fear is that the North American mainland is becoming highly unstable, and I fear it is contributing to the rising tide of global authoritarianism. Trump’s apparent sympathy for Duterte is not a good sign. We can’t know what his policies will be, but his appointments thus far are also not a good sign. Our situation goes well beyond the normal struggles between the center left and right.

  3. Your use of the of the New England Holocaust Memorial poem seems so well suited to express how so many people feel right now, myself included. My love for family and friends who struggle with substance use issues, makes fighting for them seem so pertinent right now. Thank you for your thoughts on love and the importance of understanding.

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