The Post ed­i­to­rial: Pres­i­dent Trump is com­ing around on the opi­oid cri­sis.

The Denver Post - - DENVER & THE WEST -

Ear­lier this week, on the same day the fed­eral gov­ern­ment re­leased hor­ri­fy­ing fig­ures about the con­tin­u­ing rise of opi­oid over­dose deaths in this coun­try, Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump missed a chance to el­e­vate the prob­lem in an­nounc­ing he would de­cline to de­clare an emer­gency.

Thank­fully, he ap­pears to be com­ing around. On Thurs­day, Trump said he was or­der­ing up pa­per­work for such a dec­la­ra­tion. His re­ver­sal is the right thing to do, for Amer­i­cans are liv­ing in a na­tional emer­gency. Ac­cord­ing to the new fed­eral find­ings, dur­ing the first nine months of last year, deaths from drug over­doses hit a record 19.9 per 100,000 res­i­dents, a jump from 16.7 per 100,000 dur­ing the same pe­riod in 2015. The death rate is on pace to ap­proach 60,000 deaths for 2016.

In Colorado, the good news is that death rates for over­doses of pre­scrip­tion opi­oids dropped, but heroin over­doses jumped. Our over­all over­dose rate for all of 2016 was 16.1 per 100,000 res­i­dents.

The numbers bol­ster rec­om­men­da­tions from the pres­i­dent’s own bi­par­ti­san panel of ex­perts — led by Trump loy­al­ist Chris Christie — on the cri­sis. They re­leased in­terim rec­om­men­da­tions only days be­fore. The top, most ur­gent ad­vice? De­clare a na­tional emer­gency.

“With ap­prox­i­mately 142 Amer­i­cans dy­ing ev­ery day, Amer­ica is en­dur­ing a death toll equal to Sept. 11 ev­ery three weeks,” the com­mis­sion mem­bers wrote. “Your dec­la­ra­tion would em­power your cabi­net to take bold steps and would force Congress to fo­cus on fund­ing and em­pow­er­ing the ex­ec­u­tive branch even fur­ther to deal with this loss of life.”

Aside from the loss of life, the ad­dic­tion is bankrupt­ing fam­i­lies, fu­el­ing crime and wreak­ing havoc in city cen­ters, like Den­ver’s. A great equal­izer, the epi­demic isn’t iso­lated to just back al­leys and parks, how­ever. Opi­oid ad­dic­tion, which be­gan due to over-pre­scrib­ing of le­gal drugs, has ru­ined lives in sub­ur­ban and ru­ral en­claves rich and poor.

We hope Trump stays the course. In de­clin­ing to de­clare an emer­gency Tues­day, the pres­i­dent seemed more in­ter­ested in at­tack­ing Pres­i­dent Barack Obama for not do­ing enough on his watch to pros­e­cute bad ac­tors. Mean­while, Trump’s Drug En­force­ment Ad­min­is­tra­tion di­rec­tor wasn’t even present for Trump’s re­marks, and his at­tor­ney gen­eral seems more con­cerned about mar­i­juana – a drug that isn’t deadly or highly ad­dic­tive.

Trump’s Health and Hu­man Ser­vices sec­re­tary says declar­ing an emer­gency would be a mostly sym­bolic ges­ture. If that’s the case, we won­der what could be the harm. More likely, such a dec­la­ra­tion would fo­cus at­ten­tion and re­sources on the issue in a use­ful way, and pro­pel Congress to free up needed money.

Gov. John Hick­en­looper noted on NPR this week that Trump’s as­sur­ance that his ad­min­is­tra­tion was “fully en­gaged” in deal­ing with the cri­sis hasn’t been no­tice­able in Colorado. The ar­gu­ment in fact col­lides with the re­al­ity that had Trump suc­ceeded in push­ing Repub­li­cans to cut the Oba­macare Med­i­caid ex­pan­sion, it would have caused great harm here.

The ex­panded cov­er­age, Hick­en­looper noted, has helped 450,000 res­i­dents here gain ac­cess to sub­stance abuse treat­ment.

We get it that Trump is of­ten con­fused, but this cri­sis is un­like any the coun­try has seen and the re­cent fig­ures ought to bring fo­cus. Call­ing for ab­sti­nence and crack­ing down with crim­i­nal prose­cu­tions are strate­gies that have their place. But the prob­lem is larger than that, and Trump’s turn­around is promis­ing.

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