Trump stresses tough law enforcement in comments on the opioid epidemic
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.
President Donald Trump stressed law enforcement as he talked about the nation’s opioid problem Tuesday.