At a press conference Monday with the Italian Prime Minister, President Donald Trump said he'd have "no problem" shutting down the government if Congress fails to allocate funding for a wall on the Southwest border. It's a threat he blasted on Twitter over the weekend as well.
“I would be willing to ‘shut down’ government if the Democrats do not give us the votes for Border Security, which includes the Wall!” Mr. Trump wrote.
In addition to migrant families and MS-13, one of the primary justifications for spending billions of dollars on a wall is to fight the deadly opioid epidemic.
Trump made a case for the wall in a speech in March—during which he also called for the death penalty for drug dealers.
“Ninety percent of the heroin in America comes from our southern border, where eventually the Democrats will agree with us and build the wall to keep the damn drugs out,” Trump said.
Curbing the opioid epidemic—nearly 64,000 people died of drug overdoses in 2017—was both a central tenet of Donald Trump's campaign and a running theme of his Presidency.
Yet most experts say that a wall would have little impact on the US drug supply.
"The supply follows demand. It's basic economics, as long as there's demand there's supply," Michael Collins, deputy director at the Drug Policy Alliance's Office of National Affairs, tells Raw Story. "If you build a wall, someone will go over the wall, under the wall, over air, over sea ... there's no way of stopping the flow of drugs into the country as long as you're not dealing with the demand. It's an astonishing waste of money."
And compare the sum Trump wants for a wall to what the US actually spends on treatment and prevention—interventions that lower demand in the black market. Collins estimates that Congress allocates $11 billion for substance misuse treatment and prevention and $16 billion for policing of all illicit drugs.
That disparity in itself shows the US is still wedded to punitive approaches that don't have a longterm impact on stemming the negative effects of drug use.
Meanwhile, despite President Donald Trump's tough talk on fighting the opioid epidemic, the spending bill he signed in March put aside $4.6 billion for the opioid crisis, with some of that money going to law enforcement.
"We under-fund evidence based programs and over-fund programs not based in science. It's why we're in this mess," Collins says. "If we emphasized public health we'd mitigate the problems we're seeing now, particularly with overdose deaths."
The same month that President Donald Trump blustered about putting dealers on death row and building a wall, John Knight stood at the foot of his stairs and called his 33-year-old daughter, Elizabeth's, name. He thought she was asleep in her bedroom, and she needed to wake up so she could watch her two kids while Knight ran errands.
"Elizabeth! Time to wake up!" he recalls yelling up the steps.
When she didn't answer, he grew alarmed. He started to panic as he rushed up the stairs calling her name again, he tells Raw Story.
When he burst into her room, he saw her on her bed, slumped over her knees, in clothes from the night before. A wire stuck out of her arm. She was dead, in rigor mortis. Knight had to get the kids out of the house so they wouldn't see their mother this way.
The grieving father is not impressed by President Donald Trump's priorities.
"What is the number of Americans that have to die before we prioritize this epidemic?" Knight tells Raw Story. "How many more of our children must die in public restrooms before we create safe injection rooms, until we find the way to help the addict gain sobriety and understand and overcome the relapse frequency? That wall? It needs to wait until our fellow American citizens stop dying!"
Knight would like to see a serious investment in policies that might actually save lives—like research that would explain "why a 33-year-old daughter with all the support available, two beautiful 9 year old twins, and two years of sobriety, succumbs to the need to put the needle in her arm."
"That will save lives, not take lives with policies that cost us huge resources and produce no effect."