Trump stresses tough law en­force­ment in com­ments on the opi­oid epi­demic

Cecil Whig - - OBITUARIES & REGIONAL - By NOAH BIERMAN & NOAM N. LEVEY Tri­bune Wash­ing­ton Bureau

BED­MIN­STER, N. J. — Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump stressed law en­force­ment as he talked about the na­tion’s opi­oid prob­lem Tues­day, em­pha­siz­ing an ap­proach that was not ad­dressed in a re­port re­leased last week by the spe­cial com­mis­sion he ap­pointed to com­bat opi­oid abuse.

“At the end of 2016, there were 23 per­cent fewer fed­eral pros­e­cu­tions than in 2011, so they looked at this surge and they let it go by,” Trump told re­porters from the club­house of his golf club in New Jer­sey. “We’re not let­ting it go by.”

“Strong law en­force­ment is ab­so­lutely vi­tal to hav­ing a drug- free so­ci­ety,” Trump said. “I have had the op­por­tu­nity to hear from many on the front lines of the opi­oid epi­demic, and I’m con­fi­dent that by work­ing with our health care and law en­force­ment ex­perts we will fight this deadly epi­demic and the United States will win.”

Ea­ger to con­vey a sense that he is work­ing dur­ing his two- week stay at his golf club in New Jer­sey, Trump met with Health and Hu­man Ser­vices Sec­re­tary Tom Price to discuss the opi­oid cri­sis.

Trump spoke of­ten on the cam­paign trail about the dev­as­ta­tion that opi­oid ad­dic­tion has caused in many com­mu­ni­ties, par­tic­u­larly ru­ral, lower- in­come and work­ing- class ar­eas. Trump tended to do well in the re­gions hit hard­est, a re­flec­tion of the is­sue’s im­por­tance to many vot­ers.

The com­mis­sion Trump ap­pointed to study the epi­demic, headed by New Jer­sey Gov. Chris Christie, rec­om­mended last week that Trump de­clare a na­tional emer­gency, but its re­port stressed med­i­cal so­lu­tions, not law en- force­ment.

“We must act boldly to stop it,” the com­mis­sion wrote. “The opi­oid epi­demic we are fac­ing is un­par­al­leled.”

The in­terim re­port, which the au­thors said will be up­dated in the fall, in­cluded sev­eral rec­om­men­da­tions to lift re­stric­tions on the use of some fed­eral funds that limit states from us­ing Med­i­caid money for res­i­den­tial ad­dic­tion treat­ment.

Though the is­sue res­onates strongly with Trump’s core sup­port­ers, it could be a rare op­por­tu­nity for bi­par­ti­san co­op­er­a­tion, given its wide­spread im­pact.

De­spite re­peated prom­ises from the pres­i­dent to take on the opi­oid cri­sis, the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has taken steps that are likely to un­der­mine ef­forts to con­trol the epi­demic, ac­cord­ing to many physi­cians and other health care lead­ers.

Trump has pushed for deep cuts in fed­eral aid to states for their Med­i­caid pro­grams even as Med­i­caid has emerged as one of the most im­por­tant tools in com­bat­ing the cri­sis.

Med­i­caid, which now in­sures some 70 mil­lion low­in­come Amer­i­cans, his­tor­i­cally cov­ered pri­mar­ily poor chil­dren, preg­nant moth­ers and the low- in­come el­derly.

But in re­cent years, fund­ing made avail­able through the Af­ford­able Care Act has al­lowed states on the front lines of the epi­demic, in­clud­ing Ohio, West Vir­ginia and Ken­tucky, to open Med­i­caid to poor, work­ing- age adults, a pop­u­la­tion tra­di­tion­ally not el­i­gi­ble for cov­er­age but of­ten most likely to face sub­stance abuse is­sues.

In Ohio, for ex­am­ple, more than a third of the ap­prox­i­mately 700,000 peo­ple who en­rolled in Med­i­caid af­ter the ex­pan­sion be­gan in 2014 re­ported some drug or al­co­hol de­pen­dence, ac­cord­ing to a re­cent study by the state. The vast ma­jor­ity did not pre­vi­ously have health in­sur­ance.

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion fur­ther ran­kled physi­cians and other ad­dic­tion spe­cial­ists ear­lier this year when dur­ing a visit to West Vir­ginia Price seemed to dis­miss the im­por­tance of med­i­ca­tion- as­sisted treat­ment for sub­stance abuse pa­tients.

A spokes­woman for Price later had to clar­ify that the health sec­re­tary sup­ported a va­ri­ety of treat­ment op­tions.

TING SHEN/XIN­HUA NEWS AGENCY/SIPA USA

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump stressed law en­force­ment as he talked about the na­tion’s opi­oid prob­lem Tues­day.

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