Trump's Attacks On Hunter Biden's Drug Addiction Pose Risks President Trump's son Donald Trump Jr. called Biden "a crackhead." Researchers say that kind of humiliation puts many Americans with addiction at risk. Most people never get help because of shame.
NPR logo

Experts Say Attack On Hunter Biden's Addiction Deepens Stigma For Millions

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/923647389/924396665" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Experts Say Attack On Hunter Biden's Addiction Deepens Stigma For Millions

Experts Say Attack On Hunter Biden's Addiction Deepens Stigma For Millions

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/923647389/924396665" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Joe Biden's son Hunter has acknowledged his struggles with alcohol and cocaine abuse. President Trump has lashed out against him because of it. That kind of public attack can add to shame and isolation for people suffering addiction. NPR's Brian Mann has more.

BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: During the first presidential debate, President Trump attacked Joe Biden, in part by inaccurately attacking the character of Biden's son.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Hunter got thrown out of the military. He was thrown out, dishonorably discharged...

JOE BIDEN: That's not true...

TRUMP: ...For cocaine use.

BIDEN: ...He wasn't dishonorably...

MANN: That's factually wrong. Hunter Biden received an administrative discharge, not a dishonorable designation, from the Navy Reserve after he tested positive for cocaine in 2014. He's spoken openly about his struggle with addiction, telling The New Yorker magazine last year, it's like a darkness. During the debate, his father, Joe Biden, responded to Trump's attack.

TRUMP: He made...

BIDEN: My son...

TRUMP: ...A fortune.

BIDEN: My son...

TRUMP: And he didn't have a job.

BIDEN: My son, like a lot of people - like a lot of people you know at home - had a drug problem. He's overtaken it. He's fixed it. He's worked on it. And I'm proud of him.

MANN: But after the debate, President Trump's son, Donald Jr., doubled down on the attack, calling Hunter Biden a crackhead during an appearance on Glenn Beck's right-wing talk show.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DONALD TRUMP JR: And you don't think they would use that over crackhead Hunter. Like, you don't think that we need leverage over Joe Biden?

MANN: Eric Garcia is a journalist, himself in recovery from alcohol and sex addiction. He wrote about the attacks on Hunter Biden in The Washington Post, arguing the president is legitimizing the use of a disease as a political weapon.

ERIC GARCIA: To hear the president of the United States say this is a legitimate political smear or this legitimate political talking point shows that he thinks that this is a way to attack - this is a character defect.

MANN: Experts say stigma can be a life-or-death issue for the 20 million Americans who suffer addiction. According to the National Institutes of Health, 75% of those people never get help. Research suggests shame and stigma play a big part in that.

GARY MENDELL: Words change the way that we perceive those with this disease.

MANN: Gary Mendell heads a national addiction recovery program called Shatterproof. He says the kind of stigma reinforced by these political attacks on Hunter Biden will leave more people reluctant to get help. He lost his son to addiction in 2011. Brian Mendell was 25 when he died by suicide after wrestling with his own shame.

MENDELL: I've never had to wonder because he wrote about it in a note to me. He talked about not being looked at as normal (crying).

MANN: Drug overdoses killed more than 70,000 people last year. According to federal research, treatment could have prevented many of those deaths. Addiction is now understood by scientists and health care providers as a treatable illness. But Mendell says that's only possible if people like his son feel safe getting care.

MENDELL: You've lost hope that he could live in a world where, as a young man, he could develop a disease, get science-based care in a health care system, get better and live a full and fulfilling life, managing a chronic illness - no different than someone with diabetes.

MANN: There's no data, no polls or surveys to tell whether this issue will matter to voters. But the addiction epidemic is hitting families especially hard in some of the battleground states, like Ohio and Pennsylvania, that could decide the presidential election in November. Meanwhile, anyone needing help for substance use disorder can go to a national website findtreatment.gov.

Brian Mann, NPR News.

Copyright © 2020 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.