President Donald Trump said on Tuesday the United States had no alternative but to defeat an epidemic of opioid drug use, but announced no new policies to combat the health crisis that kills more than 100 Americans daily.
“It is a problem the likes of which we have not seen,” Trump told reporters in the midst of a two-week getaway at his golf club in New Jersey.
“We will fight this deadly epidemic and the United States will win,” Trump added. “We will win. We have no alternative.”
Trump had earlier announced he would give a “major briefing” on opioid drug use but instead gave a few brief comments on the subject while also warning North Korea it would be met with “fire and fury” if it threatens the United States.
Trump aides were due to discuss the opioid topic later on Tuesday.
A commission created by Trump to study opioid abuse urged him last week to declare a national emergency to address what it called a crisis involving the epidemic use of opioids, framing its death toll in the context of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.
The commission, headed by Republican New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, recommended a series of steps Trump could take on his own without Congress. It called for waiving a federal rule that restricts the number of people who can receive residential addiction treatment under the Medicaid healthcare program for the poor and disabled.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, opioids were involved in more than 33,000 U.S. deaths in 2015, the latest year for which data is available, and estimates show the death rate has continued rising. U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price has called the epidemic one of his agency’s top priorities.
The commission cited government data showing that since 1999 U.S. opioid overdoses have quadrupled, adding that nearly two thirds of U.S. drug overdoses were linked to opioids such as heroin and the powerful painkillers Percocet, OxyContin and fentanyl.
“With approximately 142 Americans dying every day, America is enduring a death toll equal to Sept. 11 every three weeks,” commission members wrote in a report. “Your declaration would empower your cabinet to take bold steps and would force Congress to focus on funding and empowering the executive branch even further to deal with this loss of life.”
The Republican president’s initial federal budget called for a 2 percent increase in drug treatment programs and would provide funds to increase border security to stop the flow of drugs into the country.
Substance abuse treatment activists have criticized his proposed cuts to federal prevention and research programs as well as his calls to shrink Medicaid, which covers drug treatment for hundreds of thousands of Americans.
Preserving funds to confront the opioid epidemic emerged as a sticking point in congressional efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act this year.
Republican legislation in the Senate to dismantle the Obamacare healthcare law included $45 billion for fighting the opioid epidemic, on top of the $2 billion in an earlier version of the bill, but the measure was defeated last month.
Trump is away from Washington until later this month while the White House is undergoing renovations. He and his aides have said he is maintaining a daily working schedule.
Even before the event, the Democratic National Committee slammed Trump, with spokesman Daniel Wessel saying in a statement: “Trump promised he’d come to the aid of communities ravaged by the opioid epidemic, but so far he’s done nothing for them.”
“Until Trump takes real action and abandons his attempts to reduce healthcare access to these communities, anything he does is nothing but more empty rhetoric and another broken promise,” Wessel added.
Officials from New Hampshire criticized Trump last week after a leaked transcript of a January conversation with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto showed that Trump had called the New England state, hard-hit by the opioid epidemic, a “drug-infested den.”
A study published on Monday in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine and led by University of Virginia researchers found that official figures issued by states on deaths caused by opioid and heroin overdoses were substantially under-reported.
The researchers examined death certificates dating from 2008 to 2014 and found that national mortality rates for opioids were 24 percent above previously reported data, and the heroin mortality rate was 22 percent higher.
SOURCE: Doina Chiacu and James Oliphant