Bill O'Reilly's Explanation of the Opioid Crisis Is Dangerous

December 13th 2016

Mike Rothschild

Bill O'Reilly has spent a portion of his Fox News show blaming the world's ills on President Obama — including the murder spike in Chicago, the humanitarian disaster in Syria, and the rise of Donald TrumpOn his December 12th show, O'Reilly found something else to blame on Obama: the opioid crisis.

In his rant, O'Reilly tried to tie President Obama's criminal justice reforms to the opioid crisis. "President Obama has made it a cause to try to convince Americans that selling heroin’s not a violent crime," O'Reilly claimed.

This is racially motivated, O'Reilly says, "because [Obama] believes that the justice system is unfair to black heroin dealers, see? Because more of them are arrested." 

President Obama has spoken about the need to get rid of strict sentencing that locks up nonviolent drug offenders, arguing that locking individuals up for violating outdated drug laws does a disserve to taxpayers with no benefit to public safety. The president has commuted of the prison sentences of over 1,000 nonviolent drug offenders during his presidency, including over 800 in 2016.

Opioid Pills

But the notion that Obama’s leniency toward nonviolent drug offenders has influenced America’s opioid epidemic fails to account for the role of prescribing trends.

Public health experts generally agree that the increased availability of addictive painkillers, starting in the 1990s, heavily contributed to the drug crisis we’re experiencing today. 

After a patient becomes physically dependent on prescription opioids, they’re more likely to turn to cheaper and more potent narcotics such as heroin when they’re prescription runs out, according to the National Institutes of Health. The Obama administration has recognized this trend and promoted both substance use disorder treatment programs and enhanced pharmaceutical regulation in an effort to curb the opioid crisis.

The crisis does appear to be worsening, based on the latest figures of opioid overdoses in 2015, but there's no evidence connecting the crisis to Obama administration policies. 

A recent federal report revealed that 33,000 people died from the use of painkillers and heroin in 2015, and for the first time since records were kept, heroin deaths outnumbered gun homicides.


One expert in the field of health policy finds O'Reilly's claim of inner-city drug dealers being the cause of the opioid crisis "ludicrous" and "not fact-based."

Jill Horwitz is a UCLA law professor and scholar focusing on the intersection of healthcare and the law; she believes O'Reilly's comments were "a strange thing to say."

"The opioid problem has a lot of moving parts," Horwitz told ATTN:. The growing crisis can't simply be written off to "black crack dealers" or to being a "racial thing," as O'Reilly does, because it's disproportionately killing white people.

Heroin Capsules

"One reason it's so hard to address," Horwitz said, "is that it's hitting all populations, but particularly whites. It's effecting young wealthy whites, impoverished whites, and people being legitimately treated with prescribed opioid medication."

Statistics bear out Horwitz's assertion. In 2014, the death rate from drug overdoses for whites ages 25 to 34 was five times higher than in 1999, and the rate for whites ages 35 to 44 tripled during the same year. At the same time, African-American deaths from drug overdoses have remained flat, with overall death rates in that population declining.

And while O'Reilly might blame President Obama for "tying the racial thing in to his permissive attitude about narcotics" and creating "an explosion of heroin use," the vast majority of drug policy is carried out at the state level.

"We'd do much better in stemming the crisis if it was being done at the federal level," she says. Rather than blame President Obama, she believes the White House ideally should get more involved in the problem.

Meanwhile, blaming inner-city pushers for a problem plaguing predominately white areas is "illogical," according to Horwitz. To her, places like opioid-ravaged northeastern New England are "not exactly a center of black drug dealing."

A segment of O'Reilly's thought process is transcribed here.

ATTN:'s Kyle Jaeger contributed to this report.