Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Wednesday floated a simple solution to the opioid epidemic that currently affects millions of Americans: “Take some aspirin.”
“I am operating on the assumption that this country prescribes too many opioids,” Sessions said during a speech at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Tampa, according to a report by the Tampa Bay Times. “People need to take some aspirin sometimes.”
Sessions claimed White House chief of staff John Kelly refused pain relief medication after a minor surgery in order to avoid using opioids, and imitated Kelly’s voice: “I’m not taking any drugs.”
“But, I mean, a lot of people — you can get through these things,” Sessions added.
In an email to TPM, Department of Justice spokesperson Sarah Isgur Flores said that Sessions’ off-the-cuff remark was one line out of a 20 minute speech in which he outlined law enforcement priorities for combating the epidemic.
Asked whether Sessions’ recommendation was official Justice Department policy, Flores said, “You’re joking I assume?”
“You’re focused on a single line that anyone would understand to mean that the best way to avoid getting addicted to opioids is not to start taking them in the first place (something he also said today btw)?” she added. “This really should be able to be a non partisan issue.”
Sessions’ remark Wednesday was not the first time he’s recommended over-the-counter alternatives to address the opioid crisis. On Tuesday, he told attendees at a celebration of Ronald Reagan’s birthday at the Heritage Foundation: “Sometimes you just need to take two Bufferin or something and go to bed.”
He also questioned the Drug Enforcement Administration assertion that nearly 80 percent of heroin users in the United States reported that they first misused prescription opioids.
“That may be an exaggerated number. They had it as high as 80 percent. We think a lot of this is starting with marijuana and other drugs,” Sessions said, “but we’ll see what the facts show.”
Studies do not support Sessions’ claim of a correlation between marijuana use and opioid abuse.
Politico reported on Tuesday that lawmakers on both sides of the aisle expressed frustration with the White House’s response to the opioid crisis. Senior White House adviser Kellyanne Conway, who has no expertise in the field, is leading one White House effort, an “opioids cabinet,” and the Office of National Drug Control Policy “has pretty much been systematically excluded from key decisions about opioids and the strategy moving forward,” one unnamed former Trump administration staffer told Politico.
While President Donald Trump belatedly declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency in October 2017, his announcement did not bring any additional dollars to fight the epidemic, and the Public Health Emergency Fund is still not adequately funded to address the crisis in any significant way.