Trump vows to tackle opi­oid cri­sis

He blames Obama for not do­ing enough to stem drug surge

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NATIONAL - In­for­ma­tion for this ar­ti­cle was contributed by Peter Baker, Michael D. Shear, Abby Good­nough and Michael S. Sch­midt of The New York Times; by Catherine Lucey of The Associated Press; and by Lenny Bern­stein of The Washington Post.

BRIDGEWATER, N.J. — Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump on Tues­day again promised to tackle the grow­ing epi­demic of opi­oid abuse in the United States af­ter blam­ing his pre­de­ces­sor for not do­ing more to stem the surge of drug over­doses. But he of­fered no spe­cific ideas for how he would do so.

Meet­ing with top ad­vis­ers dur­ing his work­ing va­ca­tion in New Jersey, Trump cited sta­tis­tics say­ing that deaths stem­ming from opi­oid over­doses had sky­rock­eted in re­cent years and had be­come the lead­ing cause of ac­ci­den­tal death in the United States. He spoke gen­er­ally about bet­ter health care and law en­force­ment ac­tion as well as guard­ing the south­ern bor­der.

“It’s a tremen­dous prob­lem in our coun­try, and I hope we get it taken care of as well as it can be taken care of — hope­fully bet­ter than any other coun­try that also has these same prob­lems,” he told re­porters at his golf club in Bedminster, N.J. “No­body is safe from this epi­demic that threat­ens all — young and old, rich and poor, ur­ban and ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties. Ev­ery­body is threat­ened.”

He pointed to the ad­min­is­tra­tion of Pres­i­dent Barack Obama.

“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,” he said. “We’re not let­ting it go by. The av­er­age sen­tence for a drug of­fender de­creased 20 per­cent from 2009 to 2016. Dur­ing my cam­paign, I promised to fight this bat­tle be­cause, as pres­i­dent of the United States, my great­est re­spon­si­bil­ity is to pro­tect the Amer­i­can peo­ple and to en­sure their safety, es­pe­cially in some parts of our coun­try. It is hor­ri­ble.”

Trump did not use the oc­ca­sion to de­clare a na­tional opi­oid emer­gency, as his pres­i­den­tial com­mis­sion on the epi­demic rec­om­mended. The bi­par­ti­san panel, led by Gov. Chris Christie, R-N.J., con­cluded that about 142 Amer­i­cans died ev­ery day from opi­oid use, mean­ing the death toll is “equal to Septem­ber 11th ev­ery three weeks.”

The panel also called the emer­gency dec­la­ra­tion its “first and most ur­gent rec­om­men­da­tion,” one that could force more at­ten­tion on the prob­lem from Congress and from the public.

White House of­fi­cials said the pres­i­dent and his team were still re­view­ing the com­mis­sion’s in­terim re­port and would have more to say on the mat­ter later.

But Democrats did not wait for Trump’s event in New Jersey to crit­i­cize him for fail­ing to live up to his own prom­ises to take ac­tion to stop the epi­demic, ac­cus­ing him of noth­ing more than “empty rhetoric.”

“Trump promised he’d come to the aid of com­mu­ni­ties rav­aged by the opi­oid epi­demic, but so far he’s done noth­ing for them,” Daniel Wes­sel, a spokesman for the Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee, said in a state­ment. “In fact, Trump’s bud­get pro­posal and the Med­i­caid cuts he sup­ported as part of the Repub­li­can health care re­peal would both make this cri­sis even worse.”

Meet­ing with the pres­i­dent at the Trump Na­tional Golf Club were Tom Price, the sec­re­tary of health and hu­man ser­vices, as well as a num­ber of pres­i­den­tial aides, in­clud­ing John Kelly, the chief of staff; Jared Kush­ner, Trump’s sonin-law and se­nior ad­viser; Kellyanne Con­way, the pres­i­den­tial coun­selor; Robert Porter, the White House staff sec­re­tary; and Richard Baum, the act­ing di­rec­tor of the Of­fice of Na­tional Drug Con­trol Pol­icy. Me­la­nia Trump, the first lady, also at­tended.

Not present was Chuck Rosen­berg, the act­ing di­rec­tor of the Drug En­force­ment Ad­min­is­tra­tion, or any­one else from his agency, which has taken the lead in fight­ing the spread of opi­oids.

Rosen­berg crossed the White House late last month when he sent an agen­cy­wide email say­ing the pres­i­dent had im­prop­erly “con­doned po­lice mis­con­duct” by telling an au­di­ence of law en­force­ment of­fi­cers not to “be too nice” to crim­i­nal sus­pects. He told his agents to show “re­spect and com­pas­sion” to those they en­coun­tered, in­clud­ing vic­tims and de­fen­dants.

Aides have said Trump was jok­ing, but they of­fered no ex­pla­na­tion for Rosen­berg’s ab­sence from the opi­oid meet­ing, in­stead re­fer­ring ques­tions to the agency. Rosen­berg is a close ally of James Comey, whom Trump fired as FBI di­rec­tor in May, and pre­vi­ously worked for Robert Mueller III, the spe­cial coun­sel in­ves­ti­gat­ing ties be­tween Trump’s team and Rus­sia.

Politi­cians, law en­force­ment and health care of­fi­cials across the coun­try are strug­gling to con­front the surg­ing cri­sis of ad­dic­tion and death associated with opi­oids — painkillers such as Vi­codin, Per­co­cet and OxyCon­tin as well as syn­thetic drugs im­ported from China like fen­tanyl.

An emer­gency dec­la­ra­tion could help free fed­eral money to fight the epi­demic and force agen­cies to do more to con­front it, said Dr. An­drew Kolodny, co-di­rec­tor of opi­oid pol­icy re­search at the Heller School for So­cial Pol­icy and Man­age­ment at Bran­deis Univer­sity.

He said more than 300,000 Amer­i­cans had died from an opi­oid over­dose since 1999 and that the prob­lem was get­ting worse.

Sep­a­rately Tues­day, the fed­eral Na­tional Cen­ter for Health Sta­tis­tics re­ported that deaths from drug over­doses rose sharply in the first nine months of 2016, con­firm­ing the widely held be­lief that the opi­oid epi­demic wors­ened last year de­spite stepped-up ef­forts by public health au­thor­i­ties.

The cen­ter re­ported that over­dose deaths reached a record 19.9 per 100,000 pop­u­la­tion in the third quar­ter, an in­crease over the 16.7 recorded for the same three months in 2015. Sim­i­larly, the first two quar­ters of last year showed death rates of 18.9 and 19.3, far greater than the cor­re­spond­ing pe­ri­ods for 2015. Data for the fourth quar­ter of 2016 are not yet avail­able.

The gov­ern­ment’s an­nual drug death sta­tis­tics typ­i­cally lag by about a year.

Trump’s brief­ing was the first event listed on the pres­i­dent’s public sched­ule since he started his “work­ing va­ca­tion” on Fri­day. Trump has pushed back against any sug­ges­tion that he is tak­ing a sum­mer break, tweet­ing that he is hold­ing meet­ings and mak­ing calls while ren­o­va­tions have va­cated the West Wing.


Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump speaks dur­ing a brief­ing on the opi­oid cri­sis Tues­day at Trump Na­tional Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J.

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