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President Trump Tries to Defend Comments About ****hole Countries; Apple Asked to Address Problem with Kids' and Smartphones. Aired 9-10a ET
Aired January 13, 2018 - 09:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN HOST: I'm Michael Smerconish in Philadelphia. We welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world.
He meant to say it, he knew what he was saying, that's my take on the president's inflammatory comments on immigrants and he was again speaking to his base. What's he saying now? Well, just two words in a tweet of, "America First."
Plus, it's the number one bestseller and coming under attack, but what are people missing about the Trump White House tell all, Fire and Fury after Michael Wolff is here.
The president's physical health said to be excellent at his Friday check-up at a time that many have been openly attacking his mental health which I think is wrong. The former president of the American Psychiatric Association joins me live to discuss.
Plus, smartphones provide us all with connectivity, but are they making our kids lonelier? Apple is being asked to address the problem. I'll talk to the pioneer researcher in this issue.
And everybody agrees we're in the midst of an opioid crisis, but is the federal government doing all it should do to solve the problem? What could be done? I'll ask a former head of the FDA.
But first, he said it, on that I have no doubt that I think he knew exactly what he was doing. The profanity that the Oxford dictionary defines as an extremely dirty, shabby or otherwise unpleasant place. Ben Zimmer who writes a language column in the "Wall Street Journal" told the "Washington Post" that it's a word commonly spoken among friends but rarely written down or documented.
True, we've all heard it, some of us have said it, me included, but he should not have, and certainly not in this context. Because regardless of whether the word enters the vocabulary of others, it's beneath the dignity of the office of the president. And when a president uses such a word, he triggers a slur being whispered down the lane.
Marty Baron, the editor of The Washington Post which was first to break this story told the Washingtonian, "When the president says it, we'll use it verbatim, that's our policy. We discussed it quickly but there was no debate." And nor is there any defense in the fact that other leaders have used salty language, especially where in this case, it was not a one off.
Coupled with comments about birtherism, Mexican rapists, the Muslim ban, very fine people among the white supremacists and the December report of the president having said that Asian immigrants have AIDS, and the Nigerians who visit the United States never go back to their huts, it paints a disturbing picture.
His reference to Norway I think was a tell. Yes, he'd just seen the prime minister, Erna Solberg and she was no doubt top of brain, but I've been there. Many are tall, they're blond, they're blue-eyed. Condemning the president's words, that's the easy part. The harder question to answer is why he's probably right in thinking his comment will invigorate his base.
Lots of factors, bigotry among them for sure, there's a widespread perception that European immigrants do better here than Haitian or African immigrants, the statistics don't match those perceptions. While the stats for Haitians on income and education fall below the U.S. average, Africans and Europeans are on par with the overall U.S., median income is above the U.S. population as is education.
And here's the stat that really jumps out, more Haitians and Africans are in the workforce than Europeans by a big margin. Some leaving the Third World are escaping sad, horrific conditions. A shame he didn't say it that way. What has set us apart is our history of welcoming them.
You know the inscription, give me your tired, your poor, your huddled mass is yearning to breathe free. Some will welcome the remarks because they feel dispossessed and they want to find people to blame for their lot, others wish for plain speakers even if we don't always agree with what they say.
Mistaken candor is preferred to insincere patronizing, and there's the age-old impulse to be led by a firebrand, William Jennings Bryan, Huey Long, George Wallace. Finally, some who'll be nonplussed by this manor of speech have been inoculated against being outraged because there have been so many others. All of which explains both why the president's approval rating is capped in the high 30s and probably not at risk of further decline.
Now, it's flying out of bookstores and into the national consciousness, in is first day's Michael Wolff's Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House is a publishing juggernaut of Harry Potter proportion. Already in its 11th printing, it's at number one on both the "New York Times" and Amazon bestseller list, it's publisher says it has orders for 1.4 million copies, its repercussions have been far and wide including the departure of Steve Bannon from Breitbart.
Michael Wolff joins me now. Hey, Michael, I'm not sure what's left to ask, you have been absolutely everywhere, is there anything in the book that you thought would get more attention than it has thus far?
MICHAEL WOLFF, AUTHOR, FIRE AND FURY: INSIDE THE TRUMP WHITE HOUSE: Well, one of my favorite lines is when Trump calls H.R. McMaster a beer salesman. He says, "He looks like a beer salesman, why do I have to talk to him?"
And I always like that line because I have no idea what a beer salesman actually is. And that's -- there's a kind of thing which Trump that it is as though he is from another generation, two generations ago, three generations ago. There is something peculiarly trapped in time about him and I think this is part of the immigration debate that's been going on since yesterday.
I mean, he really does. In many situations, I have found him talking about, why aren't -- why do we limit immigration from Europe? Why do we have these other people? He says things like, "Isn't anyone an American anymore?" It's that kind of thing. So, an odd thing is that Trump in the end is kind of like your old grandfather.
SMERCONISH: I've tried to keep abreast of the many interviews that you've given in connection with the book release, something that you said to Savannah Guthrie peaked my curiosity, roll the tape.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SAVANNAH GUTHRIE, NBC CO-ANCHOR: Your former editor at Vanity Fair Graydon Carter said he wasn't surprised you'd written this explicity book, he was surprised they let you in the door at the White House. Are you surprised?
WOLFF: You know, no. I'm a nice guy, I go in and --
GUTHERIE: Did you flatter your way in?
WOLFF: I certainly said what was ever necessary to get the story.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: Michael Wolff, what did that mean, "I said whatever was necessary to get the story"?
WOLFF: Well, I don't know, it's -- I went in and I was -- I did not say, "I -- you're -- I hate you and I'm opposed to you and good riddance to you" as much of the media has basically said.
I went in and said actually what was -- what I believed, which was, "Show me what you're doing. Tell me what you want to do. Let's see how this works, let's see if this can work." So, I think that I projected to the White House an amount of honest openness, frankly.
SMERCONISH: Honest openness. Did you ever misrepresent your objective or your feelings about the president?
WOLFF: Never once, never in any way. I went into the White House and I told them, "I want to write this book from your point of view. I don't want to be someone looking in, I want you to tell me what you think." And that's really what the book is, the book is not my impressions of this White House or the president, it is the -- in the voices of the people in the White House.
SMERCONISH: Did you tell them that your objective was to humanize the president, that nobody was doing that, that you personally liked the president, that you'd be able to change perceptions about the president, that you hoped to interview him in a relaxed state?
WOLFF: I probably said, yes, that I wanted to humanize the president which I wanted to do.
SMERCONISH: But were all of those pledges accurate when you made them? Were they all honest? Do any of them embarrass you today?
WOLFF: No, none in the least. That -- as I said, it sounds like you have something on your mind here. I went --
SMERCONISH: I do.
WOLFF: I've gone --
SMERCONISH: I do.
WOLFF: I went into this White House saying, "I want to write it from your point of view. Tell me, I'm completely open to this." If I could write a book which -- in which I found that the president was contrary to all opinions a potential success, I would have been delighted to write that book.
SMERCONISH: Is it fair that you presented yourself as sort of the beacon to combat media bias against the president and that that was the way that you were see -- I'm trying --
WOLFF: I didn't -- I didn't much present myself in any way and nor did anyone particularly inquire as to my point of view or where I was going or what this book was going to be. To be perfectly honest, nobody was that interested.
SMERCONISH: "What I'm really after is not so much a policy or position interview with the president but an opportunity to humanize him. Honestly, I don't think there is anybody out there who is doing this or it seems who cares about doing this. But I think you know that I like him and I believe I can show him in a way that might actually change perceptions of him. Chatted about this yesterday with Bannon who suggested doing something in the residence, I'm open to anything, but the more relaxed, the better."
I mean, I asked the question because it sounds like you're presenting yourself as an individual who has his best interest at heart, likes him, wants to show a more humanizing side of him and for that reason you should be given access.
It becomes relevant because many of us who've read the book and I read the book are trying to understand where the White House denies it, well what's true and what's not true and therefore your level of veracity in walking in the door becomes significant.
WOLFF: And I'm missing -- and so, what are you implying here? I mean, that's the way --
SMERCONISH: Well, that you were selling -- WOLFF: No, no, no. That's exactly what I had in mind to do. It was -- open your kimono, let me see, I'm willing to write a -- I'm willing to write any story here. Give me the story. I wrote the story that I got. I mean, I wrote what I saw, what I heard.
SMERCONISH: How much access did you have to the president? Were there any interviews at all for the book?
WOLFF: I have said -- I have said -- from the beginning I have spent about three hours in one-on-one conversations with the president during the campaign, the transition, and in the White House.
SMERCONISH: OK. Because from the paper trail that I've seen and I've tried to become more knowledgeable in anticipation of having you here, it doesn't seem like there was any interview you were afforded for the book per se. It was a Hollywood Reporter interview that you did --
WOLFF: You know, I think we should -- I think we should -- OK. I think that we should point out that someone in the White House has obviously given you e-mails that I sent which is perfectly fine.
But the White House has been on a consorted attack on me since this book came out, by the way, a totally incompetent attack which so far has found a few typos and turned this book into the bestselling book in the world. But, you are now doing the job of the White House, just so everybody knows that.
SMERCONISH: Well wait a minute, I read the book, I took the time to read the book, there it is --
WOLFF: Yes, I know. But you have --
SMERCONISH: If we were to discuss the book -- I have questions.
WOLFF: No, let's go. You have somebody --
SMERCONISH: I have questions. I have questions as a reader.
WOLFF: I know this. But let's go, (inaudible) in the White House is giving you --
SMERCONISH: Go ahead.
WOLFF: -- e-mails that I wrote. So therefore, this is -- you're doing the work of the White House, to discredit this book, the White House wants to discredit this book. They see now the thing --
SMERCONISH: Michael --
WOLFF: -- that he says, so your -- the implication is he was polite.
SMERCONISH: Michael, I think the questions -- I've raised two subjects thus far, I have more but I've raised two subjects thus far that I think are legitimate areas of inquiry. Wait a minute, let me finish and then you'll get to respond.
WOLFF: OK. I don't know what they -- what are they -- what is the subject, tell me.
SMERCONISH: The first is, did you misrepresent yourself in an effort to gain access? And the e-mail trail that I have seen thus far I think raises that as a legitimate question. "Hey, I like Donald Trump. Hey, I want to humanize Donald Trump. I 'm the guy who can change perceptions. I'm the guy who can combat the liberal negative media bias about him" seems like the way in which you represented yourself to get in the door, I think that's a legitimate area of inquiry. And the second -- you're finished. I promise.
WOLFF: Would you let me? I can -- let's itemize --
SMERCONISH: I promise you'll finish.
WOLFF: Let's itemize this, I do -- I do --
SMERCONISH: And the second area of inquiry --
WOLFF: I have liked Donald Trump. I was interested in humanizing him. I was -- I do set out to change perceptions which actually I might have succeeded at it but, yes, go on.
SMERCONISH: In other words, when you said, "I might be able to change perceptions of him," you meant to the negative?
WOLFF: Oh, man. I -- this is what a writer does. It would be of no value if I went into this and I did not change perceptions. I might -- I was perfectly willing --
SMERCONISH: I don't see -- I don't know. I don't --
WOLFF: I was perfectly willing to change perceptions in a positive way.
SMERCONISH: You are far more -- you are far more successful -- you are a far more successful writer than I will ever be. I know that when I write e-mails seeking interviews, my word choice is to say, "I will treat the individual with dignity and respect." I never go so far s to say, "Let me humanize, you know I like the person, I'm the one who can change the perceptions." I just found it unusual, you get the final word.
WOLFF: This is -- read my book, that's all I have. That is my final word.
SMERCONISH: OK. And I did. And I just think it begs interesting questions as to -- on what grounds were you able to pull up that sofa? In what way--?
WOLFF: I thought -- I thought you were -- I thought you were just giving me the final word.
SMERCONISH: OK. Now, I mean it. Now you get the final word, go ahead.
WOLFF: Anyway, so let me take -- let me take the final word, it's just a book. I've written a book, either you like it or you don't like, so far, it quite seems that many, many, many, many people do like it and it speaks to them. Final word, thank you very much. Goodbye.
SMERCONISH: Michael, wait. Michael, wait minute, I read it and I enjoyed reading it.
WOLFF: Where is my final word? Where is my final word?
SMERCONISH: I read it and I enjoyed read -- here's my point, you can do both. You can both enjoy reading the book and question some of the content. That's my point and I thank you.
WOLFF: Yes, please. And so, you got the final word.
SMERCONISH: OK. What are your thoughts? Tweet me @smerconish or go to my Facebook page, I will read some responses throughout the course of the program. What do we have, Katherine?
@smerconish Do you think Trump did this to stop the coverage of the book Fire and Fury? Lane, let me tell you something, I don't think he's seeking to stop the coverage of the book. I think that the only thing more upsetting to the president than a tell all book about him is a tell all book that's about somebody else.
Up ahead, the president deemed in excellent health by his physician Friday, but many are diagnosing his mental health from afar, I don't think that's fair. I'll discuss with the former head of the American Psychiatric Association who has his own theory.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When you're running for president, I think you have an obligation to be healthy. I just don't think you can do the work if you're not healthy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: Friday was the 71-year-old president's first known medical exam since taking office. In a statement released by the White House, Physician Ronny Jackson said it went "exceptionally well" and pronounced him to be in, "excellent health" details coming on Tuesday.
Of course, we all remember the doctor who vouched for him during the campaign as the most fit person ever to run for president. But his exam came amid a national debate over the president's mental capacity fueled in part by Michael Wolff's recent book and in part by his ongoing behaviors.
But last week here in the program, I took the position that it's not a good idea to break the 40-year-old Goldwater Rule that prevents people from diagnosing public figures without personally examining them and that setting such a president could have catastrophic long-term consequences.
One of those who reached out to me about my commentary was Dr. Jeffrey Lieberman, he is the Chair of Psychiatry at Columbia University and New York Presbyterian Hospital, he's a past president of the American Psychiatric Association. And he just wrote his opinion piece for the "New Times" "Maybe Trump Is Not Mentally Ill. Maybe He's Just a Jerk."
Dr. Lieberman, thanks so much for being here, tell me how you see this issue.
DR. JEFFREY LIEBERMAN, CHAIR OF PSYCHIATRY, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY: Well, it's an issue of concern because President Trump is unconventional at the very least and his unconventional, sometimes erratic, out of the box, offensive, vulgar behavior has sort of invited speculation as to what could be causing it.
Is this just the way he is coming from his background and his business world, or is it possibly a sign of something else including some medical condition of a neuropsychiatric nature? And the point that I think I've been making and has been debated is that even if you have verified expertise as a doctor or a psychiatrist, if you're viewing it from the public's perspective which is what's in the media, what's in the public domain historically, that's not a basis for making a definitive diagnosis.
And if you want to express an opinion, that's fine but if you want to say that there's more than that and should be used as a basis for enacting some type of action to remove him or constrain him from office, that's inappropriate.
SMERCONISH: You wrote a letter to the New England Journal of Medicine pretty much saying what you just said here, "Although moral and civic imperatives justify citizens speaking out against injustices of government and its leaders, that does not mean that psychiatrists can use their medical credentials to brand elected officials with neuropsychiatric diagnoses without sufficient evidence and appropriate circumstance. To do so undermines the profession's integrity and credibility. "
And by the way, for what it's worth, I agree with that. I think it sets a dangerous precedent if all of a sudden not only professionals but lay people become armchair psychiatrists. Here's what puzzles me though, as a "thought experiment with seven colleagues," you kind of did exactly that for vice and for tonic, didn't you?
You know what I'm referring to, "The diagnosis that seemed most plausible was incipient dementia." Well, what's the difference between the two positions that I've just put forth that are both yours?
LIEBERMAN: Well look, I'm not a political scientist, I'm not anybody who's familiar with government policy, I'm not a journalist who has expertise in this area. I'm a pointy-headed scientist and clinician.
But I saw this coming back in the primaries and certainly after the election, that here's a guy who's going to do things in a very unconventional way, it's going to invite all kinds of questions about what motivate -- what's his motive? Is he crazy like a fox or is he just coming out of rough and tumble world of New York City real estate or is there some real underlying psychopathology?
And I was wondering, well, what is the logical kind of remedy or process this will follow? And with just listening and reading a little bit, it became clear that there are constitutional mechanisms for constraining wayward or reckless or incompetent leaders and they're called elections, they're called impeachment, and there's the 25th Amendment.
And it turns out that the section of the 25th Amendment that applies here, the fourth one, when a president is incapable of fulfilling the responsibilities of office, that would apply here but it's never been invoked. So, given the fact that our government has not seen fit to map out what these steps would be, what is the process, what is the criteria. I took the initiative of trying to do a simulation.
Now, the simulation in no way was intended to and I apologize if, it was perceived as that, as branding the president. But if you have a 70-year-old man who's 6'3", 240 pounds, has a history of his with no serious medical illness, he doesn't use any kind of substances, recreational intoxicants, what are the possibilities at his age?
And we simply went through this as an exercise. But look, let me just say one other thing, if this was Jack Welch or Bill Gates, or Stephen Jobs, or the head of a major corporation, if he began enacting in a way that invited concern, the board of directors would convene, they'd make a decision of how to proceed, they'd possibly got a medical evaluation. But because it's politically charged, we don't do that.
Apart from invoking some constitutional mechanism, the way to do it would be the physical that underwent -- under -- occurred yesterday. But I -- you know, would bet dollars to donuts that a neuro -- a thorough neuropsychiatric evaluation is not part of that routine evaluation.
SMERCONISH: And maybe it should be at the outset of all campaigns, which would be my preferred manner of doing so so that everybody gets both of mental and physical clean bill of health. I just don't like doing it midstream because I think it becomes very arbitrary.
Dr. Lieberman, thank you so much for your time, we appreciate it.
LIEBERMAN: My pleasure.
SMERCONISH: Let's see what you're thinking on my Smerconish Twitter and Facebook pages, Katherine, what do we have? @smerconish, why do you think attacking the Presidents mental health is wrong? Anybody defending this man at this point needs a checkup as well. And I like you.
See, but that's the whole point, we deserve better A-team, why stop with the president? Why not pass judgment on my mental fitness and capacity? By the way, after the opening block of the program, many of you already are, how about a policeman? How about a high school principal? I just think it's unhealthy because it's unfair to those who are dealing with mental health maladies when we start tossing around diagnoses as a pejorative when frankly we don't even know if they apply to the person.
And I would say this, think of an answer without regard to the current occupant of the Oval Office, because whatever standard we set is going to apply to President Elizabeth Warren or President, whomever, fill in the blank, when it's a Democrat, you got the point that I'm trying to make I hope.
Up ahead, a major investor in Apple is appealing to the company to address the impact smartphone technology is having on an entire generation. I will talk to the researcher whose work they cite.
And the president declared the fight against opioids to be a national emergency, but is anything actually being done?
SMERCONISH: When it comes to using iPhones, the kids might not be all right. An activist hedge fund and teacher's pension that together are among Apple's biggest investors are now demanding that Apple investigate the effects of digital technology on young people, saying it's a public health crisis.
A letter was sent to Apple's board of directors by Jana Partners and the California State Teachers Retirement System which combined have $2 billion invested in Apple. The letter demands that the company take active steps on this issue the same way that it, "prides itself on values like inclusiveness, quality education, environmental protection, and supplier responsibility."
The letter sights data from iGen, a book that I have said I found the most impactful of anything that I've read recently. Author Dr. Jean Twenge's research found that in 2012 when the proportion of Americans owning smartphones first exceeded 50 percent, there were abrupt and quite negative changes in teen behavior and emotional states.
Dr. Twenge joins me now. She's a professor in personality psychology at San Diego State University. She has studied generational differences for 25 years and she helped draft that letter.
Dr. Twenge, welcome back. Help me provide the cliff note version of your book to my audience.
DR. JEAN TWENGE, AUTHOR, "IGEN": Yes. So iGen is the generation born 1995 and later, they are the first generation to spend their entire adolescence with smartphones, and that's had ripple effects across many areas of their lives. So they spend, of course, a lot more time on their phones and online and they spend less time with their friends in person. And that's really not a great combination for mental health.
SMERCONISH: The graphs from your book tell quite a story and I'm going to flip through them in rapid succession, less dating, less driving, less hanging out, less sex, which in it of itself might seem like a good thing from a parent's perspective but I would argue not in this context, less sleep, and here's the kicker, Dr. Twenge, more lonely.
So despite the constant connectivity and the belief that, hey, you're in touch with your friends, the way that people my age are reconnecting with people they went to high school with, in reality, they're feeling more lonely. Explain that.
TWENGE: Yes. So that's the interesting thing, you'd think, maybe that would be the exception that even if we have some of these under mental health issues that perhaps social media would help feel us more connected to each other.
But at least among teens, right around 2012 when smartphones became common, their levels of loneliness just spiked upward very suddenly, and that followed the same pattern as clinical level very serious depression, as feeling like you couldn't do anything right, feeling left out, feeling lonely, all of these things spiked right around 2012.
SMERCONISH: You say that we are on the brink of the worst mental health crisis in decades, I was really happy to see the Jana and CALSTRS letter and particularly a paragraph that comes at the end, if we can put that up on the screen where they say what they want is an expert committee, I won't read it, but they want you on the expert committee.
I like that but I get nervous that we can't trust Apple to tell us the truth about what they know of the impact of smart technology, smartphones on American youth. What do you hope to do?
TWENGE: Well, I'm really hoping that Apple takes this opportunity to help parents help regulate kids' and teens' smartphone and dev3ice use because being on these devices for hours and hours a day, a lot of teens now, almost all of their leisure time is spent with screens is not a healthy way to live, and we know this from some -- many, many studies, so it's just one example.
Teens who spend five or more hours a day on electronic devices are 71 percent more likely to have at least one risk factor for suicide than teens who spend less than hour a day and that's just one example. So I'm hoping that we'll get more studies on this, more experimental studies, better data and that maybe Apple can help us find out more about the mental health and other effects of spending five, six hours and more a day on these devices.
SMERCONISH: Final question, when I was younger, people would say the same sort of thing about television, "Oh, the boob tube, how much time are you spending watching the boob tube?" does that 1970s-era argument have any merit? When we're talking about smartphone technology, what's the difference?
TWENGE: Yes. Well there is -- there's a key difference which is that smartphones are portable. So you can carry them with you everywhere you go. So even when you are seeing friends in person, for a lot of teens, they're still on their phones. They can be carried into the bedroom. One reason why teens are now sleeping a lot less than they should. But with that said, we can't completely let TV off the hook, it is also correlated with mental health issues. But at least at this moment, teens are watching TV, yes, that is linked to more depression but the effect for electronic devices is a lot bigger and a lot stronger.
SMERCONISH: I love Apple products, I'm a huge fan of the company, I like what I think they represent. This is an important step and I hope that they will allow you to continue your work from the inside looking out and parents ought to read your book, iGen. Thank you Dr. Twenge, I really appreciate it.
TWENGE: Thank you.
SMERCONISH: Let me check in on your tweets and Facebook comments, Katherine, what do we got? One tweet?
@smerconish, TV was bad for our health, rock music was bad for our health, video games were bad and yet, I'm a perfectly healthy 40-year- old man living in his parents' basement.
Look, more seriously, I did just address that with her at the end because back in the day we heard similar complaints, this is different. Dr. Twenge addressed it at the end when she said, you may have been -- you may have been in the rec room watching the boob tube, but today that technology is with you everywhere and she speaks in terms of correlation but as a lay person, it's hard not to look at her data and say there's got to be causation in this. So, thank you.
Still to come, how President Trump's battle is going against the opioid epidemic, that's next. He said this week that he had the answer, well, what is it? And why not name the head of the DEA or nominate a drug czar?
SMERCONISH: Is the federal government doing all it can to combat America's opioid epidemic? A former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration says no. In October, President Trump declared a 90-day public health emergency, saying he was mobilizing the government to liberation Americans from the scourge of addiction.
Those 90 days are up January 23rd and much remains to be done, there's no permanent head of the Drug Enforcement Administration and the president's nominee for drug czar to run the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy withdrew in October and no replacement has been named.
Meanwhile, overdose deaths continue to rise faster than ever, killing some 64,000 people last year. What can be done? My next guest lays out a course of action in this New York Times piece, "How to Fight the Opioid Crisis" David Kessler was the Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration from 1990 to 1997 under President's George Herbert Walker Bush and President Bill Clinton.
Dr. Kessler, what should the federal government be doing that it's not doing?
DAVID KESSLER, FORMER FDA COMMISSIONER: Well, there's a state of the union speech that's coming up and the president has an opportunity. Right now the federal agencies that are involved in substance abuse are spread across 16, 17 different organizations.
We don't have as you said a head of the -- permanent head of the DEA, we don't have a director of the office of National Drug Control Policy. The president has a real opportunity, I think he should say in that speech, he should say he's going to organize all the substance abuse agencies under one head. Look, it's not the -- this is a complex problem, needs a comprehensive solution, but there's a real opportunity for leadership.
SMERCONISH: Are you satisfied that the medical community, physicians, the frontline, are sufficiently knowledgeable now about the crisis that we face and are not falling into a trap of overprescribing?
KESSLER: It's an excellent point Michael. We still have more to do when it comes to education. Some of that education comes from our medical schools, it comes from the CDC, it comes from the FDA.
But if you have one central organization within the federal government, it can make sure that we do a better job not only to our physicians but also to our schools, our parents, to all of us. Look, we need to see opioids in a completely different light, these are very powerful addictive drugs.
You'll remember certainly in our parents and our grandparents' generations and it's a different kind of drug, but nicotine. We used to view nicotine as something that was pleasurable and enjoyable but we really had one of the great public health successes. And part of the problem when it comes to addiction, is that substance is my friend or is it going to do me harm? So we have to change our national perception.
SMERCONISH: Dr. Kessler, final point, it has to do with the issue of supply. I pulled something of significance from your essay in the Times, I'll read aloud, "We need to rethink how the federal government carries out this mission. The Food and Drug Administration in approving new opioid drugs puts more opioids in the marketplace because these drugs meet the standards for safety and efficacy in treating certain forms of pain. But the more opioids there are in the marketplace, the greater the opportunity there is for abuse." What should be done about that?
KESSLER: Well, we certainly need to be sure that there are only the amount of opioids that are necessary to treat acute pain and cancer pain. So the fact is, more drug that is produced, the more -- that more drug that is in the marketplace, the more abuse there will be.
It's -- not that it's perfectly linear but that's the reality. And DEA has a responsibility to set production quotas but it's FDA that's putting the drug, approving the drugs. So we need -- White House is trying, there are good people really trying to coordinate these efforts but there's a real opportunity for leadership and centralization. This is a public health emergency, the president can I think go the next step.
SMERCONISH: Thank you so much David Kessler, I appreciate your expertise.
KESSLER: Thank you very much.
SMERCONISH: Still to come, I'll look at some of your tweets and Facebook comments. Give me another one. Katherine, what do we have?
@smerconish For your consideration: my Twitter has become a clearinghouse for the -- this is Eric Bolling from Fox. This is Eric Bolling who tragically lost his son, hang on, slow down. guys.
For your consideration: my Twitter has become a clearinghouse for #OpioidCrisis, helping parents and troubled teens. We have thousands adding stories and ideas. We lost our only son to the epidemic." I know you did, my heart breaks for you, Eric. "I am trying to turn the profound grief into helping others. And we will help you. #OpioidCrisis," I'm so glad that you reached out. I'm back in just a moment.
SMERCONISH: Hey, follow me on Twitter, hit my Facebook page, also check out smerconish.com. Here's some of what's coming during the course of the program, what do we got?
@smerconish I think Michael Wolff just showed his true colors and if nobody sees it, they're really not paying attention. I'm not sure Tom Ellis what those true colors might be.
What's next? Hit me with another one, I want to get through a bunch if I can. @smerconish The only thing missing from that incredible @smerconish/Michael Wolff showdown was hair! Jeremy Newberger, it wasn't a showdown, I mean, I'm just -- I read the book, I tore through the book, I was left with questions.
And I went in search of answers for those questions, like how did this bestselling author get such access? I've never heard that significantly discussed in all the interviews I've watched over the course of the last week. And I wondered, how much access did he really get to the president? And the questions that resulted were a result of my curiosity.
Hit me with another one, please. @smerconish Michael Wolf, When you give you give the last word twice it ceases to be the last word! Yes, that's true Ronnie, isn't it? That is true. But look, I treated him and I treat all my guests with dignity and respect. And I think he had plenty of opportunity to say the sort of things he wanted to say and I did likewise.
One more if I have time for it. Thank you @smerconish. There are ways to describe the poor performance of the president without stigmatizing or insulting Americans who live with mental illness. #endthestigma. That's exactly my point and I have written on this subject and I delivered a commentary here last week.
I don't articulate that view to carry the water of the president of the United States, that's not my objective. I'm thinking of those who have been diagnosed with maladies who deserve better than to have their diagnoses become political fodder, bandied about by armchair psychiatrists and real psychiatrists who've never seen much less treated this individual that we're talking about.
Stick around, there's another great hour coming up on CNN.