According to a White House pool report, President Trump is drafting paperwork to declare the opioid epidemic in the U.S. a national emergency.
Trump made the announcement during an appearance Thursday outside his Bedminster Golf Club in New Jersey, where he is on a 17-day working vacation:
“The opioid crisis is an emergency, and I’m saying officially right now it is an emergency. It’s a national emergency. We’re going to spend a lot of time, a lot of effort and a lot of money on the opioid crisis. We’re going to draw it up, and we’re going to make it a national emergency.
“It is a serious problem the likes of which we have never had. You know when I was growing up they had the LSD and they had certain generations of drugs. There’s never been anything like what’s happened to this country over the last four or five years. And I have to say this in all fairness, this is a worldwide problem, not just a United States problem. This is happening worldwide. But this is a national emergency, and we are drawing documents now to so attest.”
An interim report released last week by a White House commission tasked with helping curb the epidemic stated that declaring a national emergency was the “first and most urgent” recommendation.
Trump tweeted on Tuesday that he was receiving a private briefing on the crisis with administration officials and advisers. In brief comments before that meeting, Trump vowed an intense effort on opioids and related drugs. He said he would work with law enforcement inside and outside of the country against “drug dealers that poison our communities.”
Contrary to Trump’s statements on Thursday, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price indicated that the administration would not declare the opioid epidemic a national emergency after the briefing, saying the White House already is empowered with the resources to help address the problem. Price indicated other national emergencies for public health have been focused on a “time-limited problem, either an infectious disease or a specific threat to public health.”
The nation has seen a significant uptick in deaths from opioids, with the rate of death from heroin and prescription painkillers quadrupling since 1999, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. An estimated 62 American deaths occur each day from opioid use.
Aside from hurting themselves, drug abusers put others at risk, too. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System recently concluded that increased prescriptions of opioids accounted for increases in traffic accidents associated with the painkillers.
Research released last week from Colombia University confirms more fallout from the issue. Investigating more than two decades of data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System, researchers analyzed 36,729 drivers who died within one hour of a motor vehicle crash in California, Hawaii, Illinois, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and West Virginia—states that routinely conduct toxicological testing on injury fatalities.
The goal of the study was to determine if increased prescriptions of opioids, up from 76 million in 1991 to nearly 300 million in 2014, was accompanied by increased traffic accidents associated with painkillers.
The results are rather clear-cut. Overall, 24 percent of the fatalities tested positive for non-alcohol drugs, including 3 percent who tested positive for common opioid prescriptions. Prescription opioid prevalence was higher in female over male drivers, at 4.4 percent compared to 3 percent.
Guohua Li and Stanford Chihuri of Colombia’s Epidemiology department conducted the study and believe their findings show that “increases in opioid consumption may carry adverse health consequences far beyond overdose morbidity and mortality.”
“Prescription opioids as potent pain medications can cause drowsiness and impair cognitive functions. The 700 percent rise in the prevalence of prescription opioids detected in fatally injured drivers is cause for great concern,” said Li.
Declaring a national emergency would free up funds and allow health workers to waive red tape, a move recommended by an opioid commission convened by the president to study the problem.
Last week, the Department of Justice announced it will be targeting doctors who are spreading opioid addiction by overprescribing painkillers, according to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who will be appointing 12 veteran prosecutors to pursue the practice.
Speaking to the Columbus Police Academy in Ohio, Sessions said the new prosecutors will “focus solely” on rooting out doctors and other medical providers who are taking advantage of the widespread addiction to opioids in the U.S.
“These prosecutors, working with FBI, DEA, HHS, as well as our state and local partners, will help us target and prosecute these doctors, pharmacies, and medical providers who are furthering this epidemic to line their pockets,” Sessions said at the event. “With these new resources, we will be better positioned to identify, prosecute, and convict some of the individuals contributing to these tens of thousands of deaths a year. The Department is determined to attack this opioid epidemic, and I believe these resources will make a difference.”
Assigned to 12 of the regions affected most by the opioid epidemic, including Kentucky, West Virginia and Ohio, the prosecutors will aggressively pursue prosecutions for opioid related health care fraud.
The DOJ has already been busy pursuing cases of health care fraud and opioid/drug related abuse.
In mid-July, Sessions and Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, M.D., announced a massive takedown operation by the Medicare Fraud Strike Force. The case involved $1.3 billion in fraudulent Medicare and Medicaid billings and was the largest in the history of the Department of Justice. Charges were filed against 412 defendants, including 115 doctors, nurses and other licensed medical personnel.
In late July, Sessions announced the “largest dark net marketplace takedown in world history,” as the DOJ busted a network of websites that provided illegal weapons, deadly drugs, stolen identities and child pornography. The bust included 40,000 illegal vendors providing drugs to 200,000 customers, “pouring fuel on the fire of the national drug epidemic.”
I will be holding a major briefing on the Opioid crisis, a major problem for our country, today at 3:00 P.M. in Bedminster, N.J.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 8, 2017
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Trump decides not to declare opioid crisis a national emergency