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Trump: 'The opioid crisis is an emergency'

By JOEL ACHENBACH and JOHN WAGNER
The Washington Post

August 10. 2017 9:00PM
President Donald Trump speaks to reporters with Vice President Mike Pence at his side at Trump's golf estate in Bedminster, N.J. on Thursday. (REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)

President Trump on Thursday declared the country’s opioid crisis a national emergency, saying the epidemic exceeded anything he had seen with other drugs in his lifetime.

Trump’s statement came in response to a question as he spoke to reporters outside a national security briefing at his golf club in Bedminster, N.J., where he is on a working vacation.

“The opioid crisis is an emergency, and I’m saying officially right now it is an emergency. It’s a national emergency. We’re going to spend a lot of time, a lot of effort and a lot of money on the opioid crisis,” he said.

Last week, the President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis, which is led by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, issued a preliminary report that described the overdose death toll as “September 11th every three weeks” and urged the president to declare a national emergency.

On Tuesday, Trump received an extended briefing on the subject in Bedminster. White House aides said Trump was still reviewing the report and was not yet ready to announce which of its recommendations he would embrace.

A White House statement issued Thursday evening said that Trump “has instructed his Administration to use all appropriate emergency and other authorities to respond to the crisis caused by the opioid epidemic.”

In New Hampshire, U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen applauded the announcement.

“It’s long past time for the federal government to aggressively tackle this crisis,” the Democrat said in a statement. “As part of this emergency declaration, I urge the President to implement the other sound recommendations proposed by his opioid commission and work with Congress to pass legislation that provides first responders and treatment providers the emergency resources they desperately need.

“The President also needs to abandon his efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which would take away life-saving substance misuse treatment,” Shaheen said.

The presidential declaration should allow the administration to remove some bureaucratic barriers and waive some federal rules governing how states and localities respond to the drug epidemic. One such rule restricts where Medicaid recipients can receive addiction treatment.

“There’s no doubt that this shines a brighter light on the epidemic. It remains to be seen how much this will fundamentally change its course,” said Caleb Alexander, co-director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Drug Safety and Effectiveness. “No one thinks the recovery from this is going to be fast, emergency or not.”

The emergency declaration may allow the government to deploy the equivalent of its medical cavalry, the U.S. Public Health Service, a uniformed service of physicians and other staffers that can target places with little medical care or drug treatment, said Andrew Kolodny, co-director of opioid policy research at the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University.

In Thursday’s briefing, Trump said, “It is a serious problem, the likes of which we’ve never had. You know, when I was growing up, they had the LSD, and they had certain generations of drugs. There’s never been anything like what’s happened to this country over the last four or five years.”

Alexander, of Johns Hopkins, said that while the President’s declaration of an emergency could be used to free up money for treatment and other services, he is concerned that extra funds might also be used for law enforcement, to “clamp down harder” on people with opioid-use disorders.


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