Trump dif­fers with own panel on opi­oid cri­sis

Los Angeles Times - - THE NATION - By Noah Bierman and Noam N. Levey noah.bierman@latimes.com noam.levey@latimes.com Bierman re­ported from Bridgewater and Levey from Washington.

BRIDGEWATER, N.J. — Pres­i­dent Trump em­pha­sized the need for steppedup law en­force­ment to com­bat the na­tion’s opi­oid prob­lem Tues­day, an ap­proach that is at odds with a re­port re­leased last week by the spe­cial com­mis­sion he ap­pointed to ad­dress abuse.

“Strong law en­force­ment is ab­so­lutely vi­tal to hav­ing a drug-free so­ci­ety,” Trump told re­porters from the club­house of his New Jersey golf club.

“I have had the op­por­tu­nity to hear from many on the front lines of the opi­oid epi­demic, and I’m con­fi­dant that by work­ing with our health­care and law en­force­ment ex­perts we will fight this deadly epi­demic and the United States will win.”

He also sought to cast blame on the pre­vi­ous ad­min­is­tra­tion for a wors­en­ing of the opi­oid prob­lem.

“At the end of 2016, there were 23% fewer fed­eral pros­e­cu­tions than in 2011, so they looked at this surge and they let it go by,” he said. “We’re not let­ting it go by.”

Ea­ger to con­vey a sense that he is work­ing dur­ing his two-week stay in New Jersey, the pres­i­dent and First Lady Me­la­nia Trump met with Health and Hu­man Ser­vices Sec­re­tary Tom Price and other top aides to dis­cuss the opi­oid cri­sis.

Trump spoke of­ten on the cam­paign trail about the dev­as­ta­tion that opi­oid ad­dic­tion has caused in com­mu­ni­ties, par­tic­u­larly ru­ral, lower-in­come and work­ing­class 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, led by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, rec­om­mended last week that Trump de­clare a na­tional emer­gency, but its re­port em­pha­sized med­i­cal so­lu­tions, not law en­force­ment.

“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 would be up­dated in the fall, in­cluded sev­eral rec­om­men­da­tions to lift re­stric­tions on the use of fed­eral funds. Cur­rent rules limit states’ use of Med­i­caid money for res­i­den­tial ad­dic­tion treat­ment.

In a sign that Christie’s com­mis­sion fa­vored a treat­ment role over an en­force­ment re­spon­si­bil­ity for po­lice, the re­port rec­om­mended equip­ping law en­force­ment of­fi­cials across the coun­try with nalox­one, a drug de­signed to re­verse drug over­doses.

The au­thors lamented that “an im­ped­i­ment to nalox­one us­age and peo­ple seek­ing help in the event of an over­dose is the per­ceived threat of law en­force­ment in­volve­ment” and that “overly re­stric­tive or puni­tive laws may pre­vent the up­take of nalox­one or the seek­ing of aid in an emer­gency.”

Trump de­clined the re­port’s rec­om­men­da­tion about a na­tional emer­gency. Price said many of the re­port’s rec­om­men­da­tions for in­creased fund­ing and at­ten­tion could be ac­com­plished without such a dec­la­ra­tion, which is nor­mally re­served for a nat­u­ral dis­as­ter such as a hur­ri­cane or for a more fo­cused public health prob­lem such as an in­fec­tious disease out­break.

Price said the ad­min­is­tra­tion, among other ef­forts, may seek to re­lax some med­i­cal pri­vacy laws to al­low for more fam­ily mem­bers to be no­ti­fied of over­doses. He also pointed to re­search ef­forts, in­clud­ing a po­ten­tial vac­cine for ad­dic­tion.

“When you have the ca­pac­ity of Yan­kee Sta­dium or Dodger Sta­dium dy­ing ev­ery sin­gle year in this na­tion, that’s a cri­sis that has to be given in­cred­i­ble at­ten­tion, and the pres­i­dent is giv­ing it that at­ten­tion,” Price said.

Many physi­cians and health­care lead­ers say the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has taken steps that are likely to un­der­mine ef­forts to con­trol the epi­demic.

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.

Do­minick Reuter AFP/Getty Im­ages

A RE­CENT RE­PORT on the na­tion’s opi­oid prob­lem em­pha­sized med­i­cal so­lu­tions. Pres­i­dent Trump on Tues­day said he wanted tougher law en­force­ment.

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