Kellyanne Conway, whose official title is Counselor to the President, was tabbed in November by the Trump Administration to coordinate efforts to fight the opioid epidemic. At the Generation Next forum in Washington, D.C., on March 22, Conway insisted that college students could avoid addiction by indulging in junk food rather than in opioid drugs.
“On our college campuses, your folks are reading the labels, they won’t put any sugar in their body, they don’t eat carbs anymore,” said Conway. “They’re very, very fastidious about what goes into their body. And then you buy a street drug for $5 or $10 and it’s laced with fentanyl, and that’s it. So I guess my short advice is, as somebody double your age, eat the ice cream, have the French fry, don’t buy the street drug. Believe me, it all works out.”
Laughter rose from the audience at her suggestion for the simple swap. Even louder was the Internet’s response — Twitter users mocked her announcement with heavy sarcasm.
“I was considering doing fentanyl but now thanks to Kellyanne I’m just gonna ‘have the French fry’ instead. Saved me from a life on the streets!” said @mikeystephens81.
Other Twitter users weren’t keen on making jokes.
“Hey @KellyannePolls,” called @ProudResister. “Addiction is not a laughing matter. I know b/c I am a survivor and it took a little more than ‘eating the french fry, having the ice cream, not buying the street drug.’ It took treatment and daily spiritual practice. Please just stop.”
Ryan Hampton, a leading national advocate combatting the opioid crisis and himself a recovering opioid addict, told The Daily Meal, “The White House has a lot of influence on how were going to deal with this public health crisis, and this was an amateur fumble on their response.”
Hampton, who recently met with Conway before a summit on opioids at the White House, says that though “she is an incredible woman who is incredibly sharp, and I do not believe she is miseducated on the issue,” he does believe this quote is an indicator that “there is some educating that needs to happen.”
Many Twitter users have been claiming that Conway’s quote shows a common misconception: that opioid addiction comes down to willpower, and that fighting it can be talked about similarly to resisting temptations of unhealthy food.
“If it had been willpower for me,” Hampton explained, “I would have stopped way before I got so deep in. I spent a year addicted to heroin.”
He doesn’t believe that this comparison is what Conway meant by her statement, but confirms, “When she makes statements like that, it can be misconstrued. We need to make sure these stumbles by the White House stop happening. ”
Hampton believes that the answer to avoiding these misunderstandings in the future is getting addicts and the families of addicts involved in policy discussion.
“We need public health leaders, folks in recovery, and family members to really be leading the discussion in the White House. There has been some progress,” he acknowledged. “When I was there, there were a few folks in recovery present. But there’s still a huge disparity.”
One thing is for sure — many of those in recovery from opioid addiction are not pleased with Conway’s joke, and insist that the answer to this public health crisis does not lie at the bottom of a basket of French fries.