Can Kellyanne Conway Solve the Opioid Crisis?

By Mark Maginn, Columnist

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced last week that White House counselor Kellyanne Conway has been appointed to lead initiatives in the Trump Administration against the opioid crisis currently sweeping the country.

That’s right, President Trump’s former campaign manager and spinner of alternative facts has become the new “opioid czar” – although she is generally thought of inside and outside of the Washington beltway as someone as little acquainted with facts as her employer. 

Appointing a political shill who cares nothing about facts to such a high profile position strains credulity and places millions of pain sufferers and their doctors in jeopardy of more harassment and arrests.



Ms. Conway is a professional resident of what candidate Trump called the “swamp” he pledged to drain. And now this denizen of the Capital’s reptilian power structure is to be in charge of initiatives alleviating the opioid epidemic. 

This is a position that requires the ability to gather experts together in order to devise wise and humane policies to help those in terrible pain and those who become addicted to opioid drugs such as OxyContin and, of course, heroin.

To add gravitas to the strained credulity of this outrageous appointment, we have none other than “opioid policy expert” and the founder of Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing (PROP) weighing in.

"It is a positive sign. She is a high-profile figure in the administration, showing the administration takes this seriously,” Dr. Andrew Kolodny told BuzzFeed.

It appears that in Kolodny’s brand of myopia, possessing a “high-profile” is evidence of seriousness. Kolodny perpetuates the notion that notoriety equals intellect, organizational ability and tact.

Those who applaud this sad appointment apparently do not take this so-called opioid epidemic with anything approaching the seriousness it requires. Conway’s appointment will likely lead to more of the same stupid drug policy of harassing pain doctors and jailing patients desperate for pain relief. No serious policies can be expected.

For example, after nearly a year in office, the Trump administration has failed to name anyone to head the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. It also has yet to fund or propose a strategy for the overdose crisis, which President Trump declared a public health emergency in October. Does this look like an administration serious about the causes and treatment of drug addiction and drug overdose deaths?

Conway’s lack of candor and veracity is likely to lead to disastrous policies affecting millions of us. 

She infamously coined the phrase “alternative facts” in defense of then-Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s false statements about the size of the crowd at Trump’s inauguration. Conway later defended the President’s travel ban on mostly Muslim countries by making reference to the “Bowling Green Massacre.” She cited this fictitious terrorist massacre as evidence in support of the president’s travel ban on Muslims. 

The use of lies and half-truths by Conway should have been enough to disqualify her.

Can we believe that Conway will look to the ravages of poverty, the destruction of good middle class jobs, the collapse of education, the increasing wealth gap, and the epidemic of loneliness that I see in my office daily with patients suffering from various forms of depression and despair? No, certainly not. That would require long term financial commitment to jobs, healthcare, education, and housing.

Our current War on Drugs has led to the incarceration of millions of Americans of color. We now have more of our citizens in prison than any other nation. Yet Attorney General Sessions has created a new unit in the DEA that is solely charged with “investigating and prosecuting health care fraud related to prescription opioids.”

This indicates more law enforcement and pressure on doctors prescribing opioids for those of us who depend on these medicines simply to live. That is exactly the wrong policy. 

People of privilege like Ms. Conway and her boss, our President, are not capable of looking beyond their own wealthy horizons and seeing the lonely precincts of a depressed and despairing nation.

We need real, clear-eyed and honest people to bring us real, clear-eyed and honest help.


Mark Maginn lives with chronic back pain. He is a licensed mental health and social worker who spent 18 months working in New York City with survivors of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Mark now has a private practice in psychotherapy in Chicago, where he specializes in working with people in intractable pain. 

The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represents the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.