Trump trots out tired ‘Just Say No’ strategy as his plan for the opioid crisis

He rejected his own commission's advice and wants to return the country to "Just Say No."

CREDIT: AP Photo/Evan Vucci
CREDIT: AP Photo/Evan Vucci

On Tuesday, President Trump unveiled an opioid abuse prevention plan that basically consists of the “Just Say No” slogan championed by First Lady Nancy Reagan in the 1980s.

During brief remarks to reporters from his private golf club in New Jersey, Trump said he thinks the way to prevent opioid abuse is simply to tell kids that drugs are bad.

“If they don’t start, they won’t have a problem. If they do start, it’s awfully tough to get off,” Trump said. “So if we can keep them from going on and maybe by talking to youth and telling them, ‘No good, really bad for you in every way.’ But if they don’t start, it will never be a problem.”

The “plan” Trump announced is not at all the same as the one recently recommended to him by his Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis. There’s a reason for that — the commission’s top recommendation for combating opioid abuse was to expand Medicaid, but Trump has very publicly supported health care legislation that would dramatically slash funding for the program.

Trump has never proven himself able to discuss health care policy in any detail — it’s unclear if he even understands how health insurance works. Instead, the president has consistently resorted to platitudes. That was again the case on Tuesday, as Trump read from a sheet of paper during the media event and offered substance-less comments like, “We will win. We have no alternative. We have to win for our youth. We have to win for our young people.”


As ThinkProgress detailed last year, “Just Say No” was a failure. A study conducted by Scientific American found that teens who were enrolled in the program were just as likely to use drugs as those who weren’t involved. More effective approaches involve helping young people develop the social skills that empower them to resist peer pressure.

Such programs “teach students the social skills they need to refuse drugs and give them opportunities to practice these skills with other students — for example, by asking students to play roles on both sides of a conversation about drugs, while instructors coach them about what to say and do,” Scientific American explained. “In addition, programs that work take into account the importance of behavioral norms: they emphasize to students that substance use is not especially common and thereby attempt to counteract the misconception that abstaining from drugs makes a person an oddball.”

Trump has also asserted that his proposal border wall would stop the flow of drugs into the country from Mexico. But since most traffickers use legal ports of entry, experts doubt it would have that impact.