“It must be total war in every city, town, and village throughout the land,” President Harry Truman exhorted. “For only with a united front can we ever hope to win any war.” With this call to arms, in a 1946 speech just months after the end of World War II, Truman propelled the United States toward war with a new enemy. An ancient scourge had erased millions of lives, permanently ruined several others, and had even forever scarred a president. That enemy was polio, and over a few decades the country would go on to eradicate it entirely.
Almost exactly 70 years later, President Barack Obama, in an ad-lib during his State of the Union address, would name another new enemy, this time “drug abuse and heroin abuse,” thus officially setting the table for a new war. Unlike Truman’s campaign, there is little hope of developing a vaccine for addiction and the exact causes of the epidemic are fuzzy, but he and legislators have pressed forward in one of the only true bipartisan efforts in the country. Just months since that address, the first policy mobilizations on the new front have emerged. But are they really enough to claim victory?
The urgency of the opioid crisis seems to have broken through congressional gridlock, at least. In March, the Senate passed the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA), which sailed through with only one dissenting vote. The Act authorizes––but doesn’t appropriate––more than $700 million in funds for prevention programs, task forces for prescription best practices, and prescription-monitoring programs. It also expands access to the drug naloxone, which is used to counteract overdoses.