Donald Trump last week announced he would declare the opioid crisis a national emergency, as his Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis recommended late last month. The commission, led by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, stressed the importance of making addiction treatment and overdose-reversal drugs available to more Americans—policies to alleviate the demand side of the problem.
These actions will help, but the commission won’t succeed in reducing opioid deaths if it doesn’t make suppressing the supply of drugs its leading priority. The report contains no recommendations for reducing the largest supplies of opioids at their sources in Mexico and Asia. Cracking down on doctors who prescribe excessive amounts of legal pain medications is already having an effect, but the surging supply of illegal drugs like heroin and fentanyl has negated a lot of the gains.
The rise and decline of the cocaine epidemic shows how attacking the supply is essential to saving lives amid a drug crisis. Cocaine from Peru led to the crack epidemic of the 1980s, until the supply chain was disrupted by U.S.- Peruvian antidrug operations. Coca cultivation dropped by 75% between 1992 and 2001.
After a brief remission in the 1990s, cocaine from Colombia began to flood U.S. streets. Some six million Americans used cocaine in 2006, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Then something unprecedented happened. Between 2006 and 2011, cocaine users dropped rapidly, to under four million. This decline registered in multiple data sets. During this time cocaine-positive workforce drug tests declined more than 60%. Meantime, cocaine treatment admissions fell from about 268,525 a year in 2005 to 143,827 in 2011. Cocaine-related drug overdose deaths fell 44% between 2006 and 2010.