Trump re­sists calls for state of emer­gency in opi­oid fight

New data show in­crease in death rate from drug over­doses.

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY TOM HOW­ELL JR.

Pres­i­dent Trump doesn’t plan to de­clare a state of na­tional emer­gency to deal with the opi­oid cri­sis just yet, ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials said Tues­day, ig­nor­ing the White House opi­oid com­mis­sion’s “first and most ur­gent” rec­om­men­da­tion in the face of an in­creas­ingly deadly epi­demic.

New data re­leased Tues­day showed the rate of drug over­dose deaths in­creased in the first nine months of 2016, un­der­scor­ing the grow­ing threat of the epi­demic.

And Mr. Trump’s own com­mis­sion, led by New Jer­sey Gov. Chris Christie, last week urged the pres­i­dent to de­clare a state of na­tional emer­gency, say­ing “Amer­ica is en­dur­ing a death toll equal to Septem­ber 11th ev­ery three weeks.”

Health and Hu­man Ser­vices Sec­re­tary Tom Price said a dec­la­ra­tion re­mains an op­tion, but for now the ad­min­is­tra­tion is con­tent to dole out bil­lions in grant fund­ing, crack down on the flow of po­tent syn­thet­ics like fen­tanyl from over­seas and cheer on states that cut the num­bers of pain pills per pre­scrip­tion, among other ini­tia­tives.

“We be­lieve, at this point, the re­sources that we need or fo­cus that we need to bring to bear to the opi­oid cri­sis can be ad­dressed with­out a dec­la­ra­tion of emer­gency,” Mr. Price said. “But all things are on the ta­ble.”

At the same time, the White House said the U.S. is “on the los­ing side” of the war against cri­sis, which bal­looned in the mid-2000s as doc­tors be­gan to pre­scribe ag­gres­sively mar­keted opi­oids at a rapid clip.

“Opi­oid over­dose deaths have nearly quadru­pled since 1999. It’s a prob­lem, the likes of which we have never seen,” Mr. Trump said af­ter a briefing on the cri­sis along­side first lady Me­la­nia Trump, Mr. Price and top ad­vis­ers at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jer­sey.

The cri­sis ap­pears to be get­ting worse.

The Na­tional Cen­ter for Health Sta­tis­tics said the share of over­dose deaths stood at an un­prece­dented 19.9 per 100,000 peo­ple in the third quar­ter of last year, up from 16.7 in the same quar­ter of 2015, de­spite well-doc­u­mented ef­forts to get a han­dle on the epi­demic.

“The num­bers in 2016 are no bet­ter, and the num­bers in 2017 are even worse than 2016,” Mr. Price said, sug­gest­ing the early re­ports ahead of of­fi­cial data, which tend to lag by about a year, are dis­mal.

Fed­eral, state and lo­cal pol­i­cy­mak­ers have been try­ing to catch up with the prob­lem, which af­fects all ages and races in ev­ery cor­ner of the U.S. They have in­creased ac­cess to treat­ment and over­dose-re­vers­ing drugs like nalox­one, while en­cour­ag­ing doc­tors to find other ways to treat pain, since many opi­oid ad­dicts start out on pre­scrip­tion drugs be­fore turn­ing to il­licit sources.

But even as doc­tors pre­scribe fewer pain pills, the num­ber of heroin-re­lated deaths is ris­ing, par­tic­u­larly as fen­tanyl seeps into the heroin sup­ply and claims the lives of peo­ple who are al­ready ad­dicted.

“The chal­lenge of re­duc­ing opi­oid sup­plies has evolved. As ac­cess to pre­scrip­tion opi­oids tight­ens, con­sumers in­creas­ingly are turn­ing to danger­ous street opi­oids, heroin, fen­tanyl alone or com­bined, and min­gled with co­caine or other drugs,” Mr. Trump’s com­mis­sion said in its in­terim re­port last month.

Mr. Trump em­pha­sized aware­ness among young peo­ple, urg­ing them to avoid the habit in the first place.

“If they don’t start, they won’t have a prob­lem. If they do start, it’s aw­fully tough to get off,” he said.

Mr. Price said the ad­min­is­tra­tion is do­ing a na­tional lis­ten­ing tour and fo­cus­ing on stem­ming opi­oid abuse among vet­er­ans and preg­nant women who could pass along opi­oid-re­lated prob­lems to new­borns.

“The pres­i­dent un­der­stands the mag­ni­tude of this chal­lenge, how dev­as­tat­ing it is, he un­der­stand the ef­fect that it has had on our na­tion,” Mr. Price said.

Mr. Trump high­lighted the opi­oid prob­lem on the cam­paign trail, say­ing his pro­posed bor­der wall with Mex­ico would blunt the flow of il­licit drugs into the U.S.

He faced crit­i­cism ear­lier this year, how­ever, for en­dors­ing sweep­ing cuts to Med­i­caid cov­er­age for the poor as part of GOP plans to re­peal Oba­macare. Some Repub­li­cans balked at the idea, say­ing the fed­eral-state pro­gram of­fered a crit­i­cal life­line to opi­oid-ad­dic­tion treat­ment.

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