By Lise Millay Stevens
After more than nine months in office, President Donald Trump has announced a multi-pronged approach to combating the U.S. opioid epidemic. The question is, will he put the money where his mouth is? In the past few months and as recently as yesterday, the president has referred to the epidemic as a ‘national emergency.’ Today he changed his tune, and called it a ‘public health emergency.’
This may indicate that the president is the only person in America who hasn’t gotten the memo
The exploding addiction problem and soaring number of drug-related deaths in the United States cannot be described as anything short of a national emergency. The U.S. toll from overdose is on track to hit more than 70,000 fatalities this year; that’s 175 lives lost every day; seven per hour.
More deaths every year than those caused by traffic accidents and firearms combined.
Being picky about the terminology used to describe the drug problem may seem trivial given the gravity of the problem. But it does matter – in terms of what money is made available and how it will be used to make America well again.
Individual states, especially those hit hard by the opioid epidemic such as Ohio, West Virginia and New Hampshire, will not be able to request money from the Federal Disaster Relief Fund, as was made available after the hurricanes that hit Florida, Texas and Puerto Rico. A public health emergency simply allows states to take money from one pot and shift it into addiction-related activities, such as education and treatment. The president claimed that $1 billion is already being made available in grants to combat addiction, and that more money is on the way. He did not say if such funds are included in the administration’s new budget, which is circulating through Congress.
The plan, according to today’s unveiling, relies on a number of planks, including:
The rollout of the new plan included a brief speech by first lady Melania Trump, who talked about the people she has met across America who have been affected by the epidemic, and discussion from the president about his brother Fred’s struggle with alcoholism. Apt material to appeal to the tender-hearted listener.
This new attack on the opioid crisis sounds like the perfect prescription for a perfidious problem, but it lacks in detail and contradicts the actions of the president, such as supporting a health care bill that would have stripped millions of dollars from Medicaid. More than 60 percent of people receiving mental health and addiction treatment today receive care thanks to Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion. It is hard to reconcile supporting that bill, and now vowing to fight addiction. The U.S. public and nearly every medical organization came out against the bill, and both breathed a sigh of relief when it died in the Senate.
In addition, the administration is keen on drastically cutting the budgets of the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the primary health agencies that have served the country for decades. It is hard to swallow that there is a true drive for addiction research and treatment when funds are actively slashed.
The proposal to simply to teach kids to not take drugs is flawed; Nancy Reagan’s ‘Just Say No’ campaign in the 1980s did nothing to put a dent in the drug epidemic of that era. Building a wall is a ruse to get through his old campaign promise and omits that fact that the worst opioids are currently available online, mostly from China. Money needs to be added, not moved around, to state and federal coffers to provide treatment to all who need it, free of charge, and fund job training and other programs to help people re-enter society.
Trump admitted that it will take ‘decades’ to fix the problem. There are many who think the real solutions will start with a new administration, one that believes in health care for all Americans.