Drug Policy

Trump Attacks Biden on Drug Policy From the Left

It's an interesting strategy for a president who ran in 2016 on a Nixonian "law and order" platform.


As part of President Donald Trump's attempt to portray himself as a criminal justice reformer, his reelection campaign last week attacked former Vice President Joe Biden, the leading contender for the Democratic nomination, for supporting harsh drug policies that have "wreck[ed] countless lives" and endangered overdose victims by discouraging bystanders from seeking help. It's an interesting gambit from a man who ran for president in 2016 on a "law and order" platform borrowed from Richard Nixon. Whether it will amount to more than that seems doubtful at this point, given Trump's silence on how he would reform drug policy or make the criminal justice system less mindlessly punitive.

"In addition to wrecking countless lives with the 1994 crime bill, during his time in the Senate, Biden's 'priority' was legislation that policy experts agree made the opioid epidemic far more deadly," says a March 4 press release from the Trump campaign. "Biden pioneered legislation that decreases the likelihood of people to call 911 if they witness a drug overdose and has even led to prosecutors filing homicide charges against drug overdose victims' loved ones."

The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, which Biden was still bragging about as recently as 2015, created 60 new capital offenses, increased drug penalties, provided $10 billion for prison construction, and encouraged states to pass "truth in sentencing" laws that curtailed or eliminated parole. As Udi Ofer of the American Civil Liberties Union puts it, "the 1994 Biden Crime Bill" (as Biden has proudly called it) marked "the moment when both parties, at a national level, fully embraced the policies and political posturing that exacerbated the mass incarceration crisis we are trying to fix today." While the bill was not "the key driver of mass incarceration," the Sentencing Project's Marc Mauer observes, "it certainly escalated the scale of its impact." And Biden also played a leading role in earlier legislation that ramped up penalties for drug offenses, including the Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984, the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, and the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988.

Today, Biden has repudiated his longtime support for mandatory minimum sentences, which he says should be abolished. He also wants to eliminate the irrational sentencing disparity between the smoked and snorted forms of cocaine, which was created by the 1986 law and reduced by the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010. And while continuing to resist the repeal of federal marijuana prohibition, Biden does now call for decriminalizing cannabis consumption and automatically expunging "all prior cannabis use convictions" (neither of which would have much of an impact at the federal level, since the Justice Department rarely prosecutes low-level marijuana cases). Although Trump touts his support for the FIRST STEP Act—a 2018 law that, among other things, retroactively applied the shorter crack cocaine sentences approved in 2010—he has said nothing about further steps beyond the relatively modest reforms included in that law.

The Trump campaign's charge that "Joe Biden made the opioid crisis worse" refers to a provision of the 1986 Anti-Drug Abuse Act that prescribed a sentence of 20 years to life for drug distribution when it results in death. Like many anti-drug policies enacted in the 1980s and '90s, that provision ostensibly was aimed at "kingpins" who make a fortune by selling drugs that kill people. But prosecutions for "drug-induced homicide" (mostly at the state level) usually involve low-level dealers and acquaintances close to overdose victims, since those are the cases in which the causal link is easiest to prove. And Trump is right that such cases can involve "homicide charges against drug overdose victims' loved ones." These prosecutions are not only cruel and unjust; they are potentially deadly, since fear of homicide charges is a powerful deterrent to calling 911 when someone overdoses.

The Trump campaign backed up its charge against Biden by linking to a 2019 Politico story by Zachary Siegel, which also discusses another harm-promoting policy backed by Biden. The 1986 Anti-Drug Abuse Act included a provision known as the "crack house statute," which made it a felony, punishable by up to 20 years in prison, large fines, and property forfeiture, to "knowingly open or maintain any place for the purpose of manufacturing, distributing, or using any controlled substance," or to "manage or control any building, room, or enclosure" and knowingly make it available for illegal drug use. Biden's Reducing Americans' Vulnerability to Ecstasy (RAVE) Act, the essence of which was included in the PROTECT Act of 2003, expanded that provision to cover temporary venues used for raves or other events where people consume drugs.

Critics of the RAVE Act pointed out that it discouraged harm-reducing measures such as allowing the distribution of pamphlets with advice for minimizing MDMA risks or even providing bottled water, since such precautions could be cited as evidence that a rave organizer knew attendees would be using drugs. Today federal prosecutors argue that the crack house statute makes it illegal to establish supervised injection facilities where people can use drugs in a safe, medically monitored setting. Prohibiting such facilities, which operate legally in scores of cities around the world, is arguably another way that "Joe Biden made the opioid crisis worse." But the president's re-election campaign is silent on that point, presumably because the Trump administration is using the threat of criminal prosecution to block supervised consumption sites.

Trump also has "made the opioid crisis worse" by ham-handedly cracking down on prescription analgesics, a policy that has hurt bona fide patients while driving nonmedical users toward black-market substitutes that are far more dangerous because their potency is highly variable and unpredictable. For his part, Biden threatens to prosecute employees of companies that make pain medication, although he is vague about the legal basis for that. He also vows to "eliminate overprescribing of prescription opioids for pain" and "improve the effectiveness of and access to alternative treatment for pain," which does not sound promising for people with chronic pain who have found that opioids are the only treatment that makes their lives bearable.

Trump has highlighted his use of clemency, and his administration reportedly is considering reforms that could help reduce the huge backlog of applications for pardons and commutations. Biden promises to "use the president's clemency power to secure the release of individuals facing unduly long sentences for certain non-violent and drug crimes." Citing the example of Barack Obama, who issued more commutations than any president in history, Biden's campaign says he "will continue this tradition and broadly use his clemency power for certain non-violent and drug crimes."

Given Biden's long history as a zealous drug warrior, his recent conversion should be viewed with skepticism. But at least he has laid out specific reforms he would pursue as president, while Trump has done nothing beyond bragging about his accomplishments and sniping at Biden's.

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  1. This is great. I wish Trump said more things like this. Since his supporters will believe and adapt anything he says, he actually has the potential to convince millions of hard-headed “law and order” types to end the drug war.

    1. Meanwhile, those of us who have been paying attention to recent news know that Trump is a big fat lying hypocrite (as are some of his campaign aides as well), and they want to “amp up” on punitive fed “pot” laws!

      Congress should halt Trump’s plan to upend states’ medical marijuana laws

      1. An opinion piece in the Hill surely says more about Trump’s policies than, you know his actual policies. The walls are closing Hihn! It’s the beginning of the end!

        Holy fuck it’s going to be just absolutely splendid when you finally fucking die. I’m gonna rub one out in your honor.

        1. “Holy fuck it’s going to be just absolutely splendid when you finally fucking die. I’m gonna rub one out in your honor.”

          OMG, ewwww.

        2. Pics, or it didn’t happen.

      2. I read the Hill piece and the only link in it takes you to another NORML blog that says exactly the same thing. I haven’t read the administrations proposed budget nor will I but this claim seems at odds with Bill Barr’s previous positions.


        I seriously doubt that the Trump justice department is planning on putting medical MJ patients in federal prisons like Obama did at least in states where it’s legal. The current administration view seems to be hands off in states that have legalized while reserving the right to prosecute where it hasn’t been. It’s hardly a libertarian policy but it beats the shit out of what came before.

          1. Good job Grimsrud, you actually read up on it and posted a link! Excellent! Really!

            Here is another one:

            Feb 19, 2020,08:35pm EST
            Top Trump Campaign Spokesman: Marijuana Must Be ‘Kept Illegal’

        1. RE: the budget …. it’s about the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment. In every budget since 2014. Supposedly Trump’s proposed 2020 budget omitted it.

    2. No they won’t. You think that because you are not very bright. And like many people who are not very bright, you make up for it by convincing yourself it is everyone else is stupid.

      Trump supporters will support this largely because they are thoughtful people who see the problem here. Not to go all Rev on you, but you should probably acknowledge your intellectual inferiority and just move on here.

      1. Trump supporters will support this largely because they are thoughtful people who see the problem here.

        Good one, John. When I think of Trump supporters, thoughtful is the first thing that comes to mind.

        1. TRUE intellectuals sit on the web 8 hours a day blaming Trump for a Chinese virus and waxing poetic about the good old days when you could sleep peacefully at night dreaming of that big chocolate jesus cock, right you Marxist faggot?

        2. “When I think of Trump supporters, thoughtful is the first thing that comes to mind”

          Compared to you, Sqrls, Hihn, Hank Phillips and Kirkland? Yah, intellectual giants.

          1. I feel much better after chatting with transen wien ladies so spend some quality time

        3. They have jobs and fly planes, build bridges and do about a million other things you can’t do. So, yeah you are their inferior and always will be.

      2. Good god you are dumb John.

        1. “Good god you are correct John”


        2. And yet, I am still vastly smarter than you are. I lose more brain cells on a night out drinking than you ever will have. It must suck being you.

      3. Who knows why people adopt the political decisions they do? Or really anything? All I know is that we’re all susceptible to influence, and everything helps. Developing trust in others is a useful heuristic. We can’t all be experts on everything we’re called on to make judgments about, but most are not such fools as to invest unfailing trust in others on subjects we can learn more widely about. John and Chipper are both partly right.

        1. All lies and jest … still a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest

  2. This article could have been written about any politician on any subject. Our elected overlords legislate based on the prevailing winds, not on what is or is not right. Of course Biden backed all these horrible laws because that is what the prevailing wind told him to do to get (re)-elected. Now that the winds have changed, so has his “beliefs”. This is not leadership. Just another example of the tail wagging the dog.

    1. Every single person marching “against guns” and screaming for gun control would have been the same people screaming at politicians hesitant to support the Drug War and mass incarceration as literally killing children.
      The similarities between the gun control movement and the beginning of the War on Drugs and “Tough on Crime” policies, both of which were completely bipartisan, are so frickin obvious.

      Then, in 20 years, when it turns out that “gun control” didn’t solve any problems and just wound up sending hundreds of thousands of mostly black men to prison for victimless crimes of possession, Democrats will claim it was all an evil, racist scheme by conservatives from the start.

      1. It is not white redneck NRA members who are responsible for most gun violence in this country. It is not white Republicans who are most likely to break gun laws and be caught committing a crime by possessing a gun.

        It will end EXACTLY like the War on Drugs.

        1. Serious question: Why do you allude that the WoD is ended/ing?

    2. Our elected overlords legislate based on the prevailing winds, not on what is or is not right.

      So why aren’t all their votes unanimous?

  3. Opposition to the drug war can now officially be called “Trumpian”.

    1. +100000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000

    2. This #LibertarianMoment brought to you by Orange Man and the Deplorables who supported him, over the hysterical pants shitting opposition of @Reason.

      You’re welcome.

  4. Wow. Just wow.

    1. Sullum’s lying pretty hard through all of this, and most of his “cites” are to his own columns in which he was also lying.

      For example; “a man who ran for president in 2016 on a “law and order” platform borrowed from Richard Nixon”

      Anyway, this article exemplifies the fact that the purpose of journalism is to protect members of the Democratic Party. The more strenuously you defend them, the better you are at journalism and the more awards you get.

      1. “We must maintain law and order at the highest level or we will cease to have a country, 100 percent,” he said during a speech in Virginia Beach, Virginia, in which he heaped praise upon America’s law enforcement officers. “We will cease to have a country. I am the law and order candidate.”

        Was Trump lying about himself or was he the law and order candidate? You’re in a bit of a bind there, as is usually the case when trying to defend that assclown.

        1. Law and order candidate aint no law and order platform.

          Trying to compare Trump (the best US President in US history) to Nixon is laughable. Its unreason, so not surprised at all since they have zero integrity.

  5. Hmmm. I thought Biden would have had second thoughts about Drug laws when Hunter got kicked out of the navy.

    1. Have some sympathy, he never expected those laws to be enforced against people in his class.

    2. Eh. Getting kicked out of the Navy was good for Fredo Biden.

      It opened up his lucrative career in Ukrainian gas.

      1. Big trouble for Biden family.

        Frank Biden and James Biden in the news. Frank wont pay a judgement after he hit and killed a mother of two girls. James is neck deep in a fraudulent bankruptcy scheme.

        1. The Dems failed to do their due diligence on their supposedly safe Establishment candidate. Biden has nothing but his dementia and crime syndicate to contribute.

          I’m looking forward to Kirkland’s spittle flecked rage when Trump wins again.

  6. Photo caption:
    “And we have to grab the twin demons of the opioid crisis and harsh sentencing and shake them vigorously, up and down, with a firm grip, until they go limp in our hands!”

    1. I pictured it as Biden regaling a crowd with a complete non-sequitur of a story about a time he went to a dairy farm.

      1. “So there I was … there I was with Bessie … I was at a farm … so there I was … it was a dairy farm … so there I was with Bessie at the dairy farm … so there we were … Bessie was the cow … so there we were, Bessie and me, at the dairy farm … and I had never milked a cow before … so there we were, Bessie and me, and I sat down to milk my first cow … I had never done it before so the farmer said just put your hands like this on the teats … so there we were, Bessie and me, and I’ve got my hands on her teats like this…”

        1. This, of course, is in response to a question about what Biden would do about the coronavirus.

          1. I thought Bessie was an overweight flute player.

        2. “… so there we were, Bessie and me, and I’ve got my hands on her teats like this…”

          Did Bessie look much like THIS? Hit the site, and scroll down a tad…




            1. Lol, I thought he just had a scat fetish, now I see that it’s more than just that.

              1. He has other fetishes, which is why he can’t live near a school.

                1. You’re not making me very eager to click the link.

  7. But at least he has laid out specific reforms he would pursue as president, while Trump has done nothing beyond bragging about his accomplishments and sniping at Biden’s.

    I’m just in shock at this. Biden is indeed one of the main architects behind harsh drug sentencing! This is something he actually did. Trump actually signed the First Step act and has taken actions to reduce the harm that *BIDEN* put in place? This is not nuanced, not complex, not hard to understand.

    And you found a way to twist that into the sentence above? Honestly this is one the saddest most blatant examples of TDS that I have yet to encounter, and that says a lot.

    1. Ugg still wishing we could edit.
      replace put in place? with put in place!

    2. Yeah, I mean, to be sure ™, Trump hasn’t done everything a libertarian would have done, but what he’s done tends to be in a bit of a different direction compared to Biden.

      Of course, Trump is no Gary Johnson.

    3. You’re surprised at dishonest #OrangeManBad propaganda at Reason?

      Are you new here?

  8. It’s an interesting gambit from a man who ran for president in 2016 on a “law and order” platform borrowed from Richard Nixon.

    Your citation fell off Sullum.

    1. He mentioned “law and order” + has crazy paranoia about some spying from previous administration blah blah blah= just like Nixon!

      1. I guess it is too much to ask for a reason writer to have any actual knowledge of anything. They are as a group ignorant of nearly any subject, including ironically enough actual libertarian philosophy.

        Serious question, what does Sullumn actually bring to the table? He never gets anything right. He seems to have no specialized knowledge or experience of any kind. I don’t think he could get a job as a night clerk at a 7-11 or digging ditches.

        1. Apply for that job, John!!! Get moving! Replace Sullen Sullumn!

          Do you recall the awesome enchanter named “Tim”, in “Monty Python and the Search for the Holy Grail”? The one who could “summon fire without flint or tinder”? Well, you remind me of Tim… You are an enchanter who can summon persuasion without facts or logic!

          So I discussed your awesome talents with some dear personal friends on the Reason staff… Accordingly…

          Reason staff has asked me to convey the following message to you:

          Hi Fantastically Talented Author:

          Obviously, you are a silver-tongued orator, and you also know how to translate your spectacular talents to the written word! We at Reason have need for writers like you, who have near-magical persuasive powers, without having to write at great, tedious length, or resorting to boring facts and citations.

          At Reason, we pay above-market-band salaries to permanent staff, or above-market-band per-word-based fees to freelancers, at your choice. To both permanent staff, and to free-lancers, we provide excellent health, dental, and vision benefits. We also provide FREE unlimited access to nubile young groupies, although we do firmly stipulate that persuasion, not coercion, MUST be applied when taking advantage of said nubile young groupies.

          Please send your resume, and another sample of your writings, along with your salary or fee demands, to ReasonNeedsBrilliantlyPersuasiveWriters@Reason.com .

          Thank You! -Reason Staff


            WHAT A KNEE SLAPPER!

            1. Hi Tulpa! Are you STILL trying to work up the nerve, to get that multiple personality disorder of yours looked at?


                WHAT A KNEE SLAPPER!


          2. Reason couldn’t afford me. Unlike you, I have a real job and actual marketable skills. You should apply for it. Maybe they will waive the sanity exam for you Hihn.

            1. You should apply for it.

              His caseworker won’t let him. The Reason office is within 2,000 feet of a school.

        2. Serious question, what does Sullumn actually bring to the table? He never gets anything right. He seems to have no specialized knowledge or experience of any kind.

          He really, really likes to smoke pot and will say anything that advances that objective. He’s also cool with ass set and illegal Mexicans, so he’s got 3 out of the 3 qualifications you need to work at Reason.

  9. Trying to make sense of anything Trump says is an exercise in futility. Moron tweets about “tax relief” before the midterms and it flutters away into nothing.

    He says what someone wants to hear or to get the upper hand at the time. He has no intention of following through on anything. And only the morons still supporting him can somehow latch onto one thing he said and not the other to make themselves feel better and superior to all those dumb “liberal elites” that have facts behind them.

    Again- Trump and his supporters= waste of time talking to.

    1. Moron tweets about “tax relief” before the midterms and it flutters away into nothing.

      He was talking about the tax cuts he signed into law that you spent 2 years shitting your pants about, remember that you stupid cunt?

    2. If you project any harder I feel like the IMAX people are gonna show up looking for royalties.

  10. It’s an interesting strategy for a president who ran in 2016 on Nixonian a “law and order” platform.

    That’s an interesting from man who speak sentence English goodly.

  11. Biden’s support of the New Jim Crow is easy to explain once you see how friendly he was with the Old Jim Crow.

    1. “Me and Jim Crow go way back, ol’ Jimmy Birds is what we used to call him. Anyways, one day I came across Jimmy Birds and his truck broken down on the side of the road. Now I don’t know about you folks, but where I’m from we have a saying about this: don’t count your chickens before they’ve hatched. So me and Jimmy Birds cracked an egg into his radiator and off he went. And that’s how we saved Christmas”.

      1. This election really is going to come down to two 80-year-olds with dementia, isn’t it?

        1. The democratic primary?

  12. I can’t wait to hear more about how the Violence Against Women Act and enhanced drug sentencing are actually hardcore libertarian legislation as soon as this doddering senile old cunt becomes your next savior. Meanwhile Trump has ended the Obama-era crackdown on porn stars and state-legal marijuana vendors. HURRR DURRR TRUMP FLU OMG RACISM!!!!!!! There truly is absolutely nothing more pathetic than you sadsack Marxist pieces of shit. I can’t wait for 4 more years of this LMAO

  13. But at least he has laid out specific reforms he would pursue as president, while Trump has done nothing beyond bragging about his accomplishments and sniping at Biden’s.

    Oh, yeah, of course just comparing your actual records is bush league, when you should be making promises like all good politicians.

  14. “It’s an interesting gambit from a man who ran for president in 2016 on a “law and order” platform borrowed from Richard Nixon.”

    During his campaign, Trump said marijuana laws should be up to the states.

    Jacob Sullum needs to realize that the Democrat party is the one that made drugs illegal – narcotics and pot both.

    1. Commenting that matters of personal liberty and voluntary consumption of substances should be left up to the individual states is hardly revolutionary; besides, Trump is decidedly un-libertarian where Prohibition is concerned! Not too long ago, he ludicrously labelled Fentanyl a ‘WMD’ and proceeded to repeatedly praise the President of Communist China for executing Fentanyl dealers without trial. That’s just one example, but if you look at the words and actions of the President and his appointees, you’ll find many that support the reality that they are died-in-the-wool Drug Warriors. Perhaps savvy enough to know to pay lip-service to ‘reform’, but Drug Warriors nonetheless.

      The reality is simple: the failed Drug War is (and always has been) very much a bipartisan effort, and both sides of the aisle have more than earned there dubious ‘drug warrior’ credentials. There really is plenty of blame to share between the two parties, and arguably more than any other area, the Drug War is one example where the term ‘Uniparty’ really fits. Indeed, Republican President Richard Nixon really is responsible for the modern Drug War, just like Republican Governor (NY) Nelson Rockefeller is remembered for the harsh and counterproductive drug laws that bear his name. Going back a bit further, a Republican named Andrew Volstead introduced to the House, the act that enabled the hugely destructive policy of alcohol Prohibition. To give the latter credit where it is due, He (and his fellow Prohibitionists) did follow the Constitutionally prescribed method. Better still, he and his kind admitted to and learned from their failures, and took decisive action to correct them.

      1. “words and actions”

        This is the exact moment where your argument died. Trump’s actions have not been that of the typical establishment anti-drug idealist. I know that you cannot accept the possibility that Trump is capable of nuance, but on repeated occasions, he has differentiated between his personal opinion and his policy preferences.

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  16. ZERO federal raids of dispensaries under Trump. Obama did that shit well over 250 times.

  17. “given Trump’s silence on how he would reform drug policy or make the criminal justice system less mindlessly punitive.”

    Sullum actually had the nerve to write that? In the same publication which has documented Trump’s actual criminal justice reforms?

  18. https://www.dea.gov/domestic-arrests

    DEA domestic arrests are down over 10% from the highs during the previous administration. ya’know, the administration that had Joe Biden as VP…

    Trump is not a drug warrior, and the administration policies have been the least drug-warrior-like of any administration in the last 30 years. There has been zero advancement of enforcement activities, and proactive efforts to address criminal justice reform for drug offenses.
    And the ironic part is that the current POTUS is an avowed abstainer due to family tragedy, while the prior POTUS was an admitted user of both pot and coke.

    To write this article requires a complete disconnect from reality.

    1. God’s Own Prohibitionists are religious fanatics eager for power. After the George Bush faith-based asset-forfeiture crash the GOP had as much chance of winning as in 1932–in the banking panics of the asset-forfeiture War on the Demon Rum. But their platform is pure prohibitionist fascism dedicated to Gestapo tactics and calling for resuming the summary execution and robbery of hippies, foreigners and blacks, plus asset-forfeiture raiding of bank accounts till the next Depression when they lose another five consecutive presidential races.

      1. get better medication

      2. Sadly, Hank, you have the Democrats and the Republicans confused. Democrats prohibit, jail, medicate, intern, reeducate, and force people to do things, out of the fundamental belief that society must force its members to do things for their own good. Progressives literally lauded European fascism, socialism, and their strong leaders for decades.

        Republicans and conservatives, on the other hand, simply believe that you should be free to make life choices that land you in the gutter, and that it is private charity, not the state that should help you.

        Hank, you’re a fascist sympathizer, it’s as simple as that.

    2. I don’t see any irony between abstaining and preferring legalization. In fact, the two usually go hand in hand: legalization only makes sense if you believe that most people can voluntarily abstain.

  19. Not sure why Sullum thought the faux confusion was necessary, but you can be a “law and order” candidate and also support criminal justice reform. They are not inherently contradictory. Adhering to laws as they are written, while also advocating that bad laws be changed, is sound policy.

  20. By “law & order” the Kleptocracy means Comstock, Prohibition and Kristallnacht laws. Biden was as prohibitionist as Reagan, Bush and Clinton, always pushing the mandatory minimums and asset forfeiture that crashed the economy in 1929, 1987 and 2008. This has been exposed since 1998 and The Don’s peeps doubtless know about it. The harsh sentences for crack–which does not spread AIDS–resembles the eugenics of genocide, like the poisoning of ethanol with methanol, and the ban on sale of ipecac, which saves people from overdoses and lung problems.

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  22. The idea that drug legalization or decriminalization is a “left” ideology is absurd. Socialists view drugs as a capitalist vice and sign of decadence and punish it harshly. In the US, these kinds of prohibitions have historically come from progressives.

    Drug legalization is a classically liberal idea, and hence pretty close to American conservatism.

  23. The anti drug hysteria has affected us who work in operating rooms.
    We are only allowed to give 3 days worth of narcotics to post operative patients.
    The surgeons all have to add a paragraph on the pre op form that the patient has been counselled about non narcotic treatment alternatives.
    I’ve been treating patients for 31 years now and there are no effective alternatives to narcotics after major surgery
    (after our immediate post op local anesthetic blocks have worn off)

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