Pres­i­dent Trump do­ing noth­ing to stop 175 Amer­i­can deaths a day

Hawaii Tribune Herald - - COMMENTARY - Dana Mil­bank is a columnist for The Wash­ing­ton Post. Email him at danamil­bank@wash­post.com.

WASH­ING­TON — Amer­i­cans are dy­ing at the rate of 175 a day from opi­oid over­doses, but Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump has yet to de­liver his promised strat­egy to end the cri­sis.

And so the peo­ple’s rep­re­sen­ta­tives, in the ab­sence of pres­i­den­tial lead­er­ship, did about the only thing they could do. They had a day of opi­oid karaoke.

There wasn’t ac­tual mu­sic. But it was open-mic day Wed­nes­day be­fore the House En­ergy and Com­merce Com­mit­tee. The panel in­vited mem­bers of Con­gress to take the wit­ness seat and, in three min­utes or less, sing a sad song about how the opi­oid cri­sis is ru­in­ing the lives of their con­stituents.

“In Ore­gon alone more peo­ple died last year from drug over­doses than from car ac­ci­dents,” said Rep. Greg Walden, a Re­pub­li­can.

“The opi­oid epi­demic is hav­ing dev­as­tat­ing con­se­quences in my home state,” said Rep. Frank Pal­lone, D-N.J.

“There are enough bot­tles of painkillers in cir­cu­la­tion for nearly ev­ery Hoosier to have their own,” said Rep. Su­san Brooks, R-Ind.

“Five-hun­dred and one New Mex­i­cans died of drug over­dose deaths,” said Rep. Ben Ray Lu­ján, a Demo­crat.

“Drug over­doses cause nearly four times as many deaths com­pared to traf­fic ac­ci­dents,”said Rep. Bob Latta, R-Ohio.

“I can give you some sta­tis­tics from Ver­mont,” of­fered Rep. Peter Welch, a Demo­crat. And he did.

On and on it went, in bi­par­ti­san har­mony. Af­ter 90 min­utes of th­ese ele­gies, I checked with staff to see how many per­form­ers re­mained; we weren’t even half­way through the set.

Ev­ery one of them had an idea, many of the ideas were good, and a few might even be­come law. But it’s all of lit­tle use as long as the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion is do­ing noth­ing. The pres­i­dent seems to be singing a dif­fer­ent tune: “When You Say Noth­ing at All.” This is what it’s like when there’s no func­tion­ing pres­i­dent.

Trump promised end­lessly dur­ing his pres­i­den­tial cam­paign to solve the opi­oid cri­sis, and by his own es­ti­mate he won the New Hampshire pri­mary (and, from there, the Re­pub­li­can nom­i­na­tion) “be­cause New Hampshire is a drug-in­fested den.” Now it turns out that, as with most ev­ery­thing else he promised, he had no plan.

He dumped the task on his son-in-law, Jared Kush­ner, who is ill-equipped to han­dle it. He named an opi­oid com­mis­sion and then ig­nored or dithered on its most im­por­tant rec­om­men­da­tions. Just this week, com­mis­sion chair­man New Jer­sey Gov. Chris Christie scolded Trump for fail­ing to of­fi­cially de­clare the opi­oid cri­sis a na­tional emer­gency.

Worse, Trump is do­ing his best to roll back what lit­tle is be­ing done to fight the epi­demic, propos­ing or back­ing cuts to the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Preven­tion, the Na­tional In­sti­tutes of Health, the Depart­ment of Health and Hu­man Ser­vices and the Med­i­caid pro­gram and elim­i­nat­ing the help pro­vided to ad­dicts un­der Oba­macare.

That Trump has no plan is un­sur­pris­ing. He had no plan to re­place Oba­macare, no in­fra­struc­ture plan, no tax plan, no for­eign pol­icy. But in­ac­tion on opi­oids is par­tic­u­larly ru­inous, as the over­doses kill more peo­ple than car ac­ci­dents and more than AIDS killed at its peak. In lieu of a plan, Trump threat­ened to ar­rest more peo­ple, sug­gested kids say no to drugs, and sent the first lady to West Vir­ginia on Tues­day to tour an opi­oid ad­dic­tion cen­ter for in­fants.

No won­der law­mak­ers are singing the blues. “Calamity,” “Epi­demic” and “Emer­gency” were their tunes Wed­nes­day. House Demo­cratic leader Nancy Pelosi, mak­ing a rare ap­pear­ance be­fore a com­mit­tee, spoke of the “sav­age daily toll on the Amer­i­can peo­ple.”

There is much they could do if they had a co­op­er­a­tive ad­min­is­tra­tion: re­stric­tions on pre­scrip­tion quan­ti­ties, train­ing for pre­scribers, bet­ter treat­ments for ad­dic­tion, al­ter­na­tive painkillers, re­duced wait­ing times for treat­ment. In­stead, with GOP threats to Med­i­caid and the like, things are headed in the other di­rec­tion.

With this grim out­look, the mem­bers of Con­gress from both par­ties chose to reprise some of their great­est hits from the past — con­grat­u­lat­ing them­selves on leg­is­la­tion such as the Com­pre­hen­sive Ad­dic­tion and Re­cov­ery Act and the 21st Cen­tury Cures Act, en­acted dur­ing the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion. This was good pol­icy but in­suf­fi­cient: All of $1 bil­lion was granted to the states un­der the Cures Act — or 0.0003 per­cent of an­nual fed­eral spend­ing.

The money the law­mak­ers boasted of — $6 mil­lion for this state, $125,000 for that pro­gram — sounded like off-notes af­ter the des­per­ate (and true) dirges they sang for their con­stituents. The opi­oid epi­demic is a tragedy. This re­sponse is a farce.

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